010.010

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Hands clasped behind her back, Eva walked around the completed ritual circle. Arachne followed along at her side, as usual, and Zoe had joined in as well. Catherine flew overhead, snapping pictures of the entire thing. They had a few changes to make that Catherine pointed out as errors. After her final check, the circle would be ready.

Ready. An odd thought. They would summon Void. Void would fix the sky. Maybe send Life back into its natural dormancy. And then who knew what? It was an odd feeling. She had been working on the ritual circle since Vektul had arrived at Brakket. Given that it was now the end of December, that had been several months ago. And she had known about the problem since long before that.

With it all over, maybe she could just go back to attending school like a normal person. She doubted it. Things entirely unrelated to Powers had been interfering with her school life from the start. She had no reason to believe that they would stop anytime soon.

Then there was the hunter. Eva hadn’t seen hide nor hair of her since she had kidnapped Juliana. Of course, they had been careful. Nobody went anywhere alone. Not even Zoe or Wayne, as far as Eva knew. When leaving the school, they almost always left with each other. Though, since both were capable of long-distance teleportation, Zoe was able to safely get to the prison without Wayne on occasion. According to Juliana, Genoa had asked a few of her old colleagues to patrol around the city on the lookout for the hunter as well as any enigmas that managed to slip by Brakket security.

Which, as it turned out, happened at least once already. Another stealthy enigma escaped from one of the remnants of Hell from a deceased enigma. Thankfully, Genoa’s friends had gotten the memo to not kill more of them. Capture and containment using Catherine and Devon’s containment scheme from the prison.

If the mage-knights had found anything about the hunter, nobody had said a word to Eva. She had a feeling that they hadn’t been looking all that hard, given the enigma problem. But Genoa wouldn’t have kept quiet about something like that given her daughter’s kidnapping, so they had to be looking out for something.

Unfortunately, they had their work cut out for them. Even discounting the darkened blotches of Hell-land, enigmas kept popping up. Ever since Juliana had summoned Zagan, there had been periodic ‘enigma-falls’ every few days.

“Lynn thinks that the more enigmas on Earth, the faster Hell will be pulled into the mortal realm. Exponentially, with the darkened spots, but even on their own, they’re acting as some sort of anchor. The demonic ones even more so.”

“So I heard.”

Eva blinked. She hadn’t realized that Zoe had spoken with Lynn. Not that it really mattered to her. It just meant that Zoe had gone out to the prison without Eva. She was perfectly welcome to do so, as Eva had mentioned in the past.

“I’m not sure what Anderson is going to do when there are too many enigmas for wherever he is keeping them, but we could try transferring them back to Hell. In fact, we should try. Otherwise, things could get overwhelming.”

Zoe didn’t say a word. She stayed moving alongside Eva and Arachne. So Eva didn’t say anything in response, choosing to stare at the ground and ensure she didn’t accidentally scuff up the grooves in the earth.

“Where your enigma disappeared, the street still hasn’t gone back to normal.”

Eva nodded. “I tried collapsing it like I did with the domain in my dormitory room. Just like Ylva told me. However, it didn’t work. Not sure what else to do about it except maybe ask Catherine and Ylva if they have any ideas. I doubt it though. Catherine has been busy examining this ritual circle. Ylva… sort of does her own thing these days.”

Nel was concerned. That much was clear. Ylva, not so much. When Eva had spoken to her while figuring out where the other remnants of Hell were located, she had merely commented that Eva had the situation well in hand before walking off. Luckily, Nel had been paying attention to the remnants’ locations.

“Let’s not be completely pessimistic,” Zoe said. “We can kill the nondemonic ones without issue. It helps keep containment troubles down.”

“You never know when one will have consumed a demon that was similar enough in appearance to where you can’t tell the difference.”

Eva, Arachne, and all th e other demons should be able to tell the difference regardless of what they looked like. Even if it was subtle, the demonic enigmas still felt demonic enough. But she remained silent on that subject, offering Zoe nothing more than a slight nod of her head. No sense mentioning it. The enigmas would likely just adapt and hide themselves.

If she had to go out and capture more enigmas, the whistle had proven that it worked well enough that she could probably lead them all the way to the prison. A pied piper of enigmas.

Hopefully it wouldn’t be required. The only reason she had gone after the enigma had been because she didn’t want to leave it running around on its own. Enigmas that could turn invisible, or otherwise hide their presence, would presumably be rare in the grand scheme of things.

And, provided all went well, the ritual would stop them completely. Her attentions were best spent on it.

Now that it was finished, they just needed the go-ahead from Zoe and Catherine. The all-clear regarding possible errors. Eva doubted that they would have time to do a full investigation of the circle and its nuances.

Speaking of which… “Any new input on the ritual circle?”

This time, Zoe let out a long sigh. “Not particularly. I showed the sketches to Wayne, but I think it made his head spin more than anything. Even with my specialization, so much is unrecognizable. Rituals just aren’t used enough these days to give me enough familiarity with it.” She fell silent, staring at the ground for a few moments. “Has Catherine said anything?”

Eva glanced up to where the succubus was flying around overhead. She was taking a lot longer to snap her pictures than she had the first night. She was also using an actual camera rather than her cellphone.

“Not yet,” Eva eventually said, looking back to Zoe. “But she is still correcting errors. If she thought there was a major issue with the circle, I imagine she would stop us before we had even finished the last segment.”

“Maybe,” Zoe said slowly, glancing up as well. “I worry that, as a demon, she is a bit too close to this—or rather, she trusts in her patron Power too much. If there was a problem with it, she might not say right away. Or she might trust her Power to know what it is doing and not look too deeply into oddities.”

“Something I’ve considered,” Eva said slowly. “But we don’t have many other options. We’ve got to do something about…” She trailed off, waving her hand vaguely at the sky. “And I see no reason to distrust the circle itself. If some random demon had come up to me and started blathering on about summoning a Power to Earth, I would have laughed in their face. And then would probably have had to kill them because they would have attacked me for laughing. But Arachne had said that Vektul was coming long before he showed up. Nothing we have done hasn’t aligned with what she said we would be doing.”

Zoe pressed her lips together, glancing at Arachne out of the corner of her eye. “So you’ve said before.”

Eva just shrugged. She trusted Arachne. It didn’t really matter if Zoe didn’t. But their conversation went on pause for the moment as Catherine swooped down at such a speed that angling herself upwards sent her into a back flip. Her wings folded back behind her while she was upside down but she still managed to finish the flip to land on her feet facing Zoe, Eva, and Arachne.

“Give me three days,” she said, hips swaying as she sauntered up to Eva. “Tonight I am running a ritual on myself using a few of the demons from around Brakket. Over the course of the next two days, I will run over every image and ensure that the ritual circle matches the original designs.”

Eva held up a hand. “Hold up, you’re doing a treatment ritual tonight?”

Catherine blinked, slightly tilting her head to one side. “Did I not tell you? I decided to run one ritual with a few random demons. Sorry Eva, you’re not invited to this one just yet. I definitely want to do another with you, but after your next treatment.” She chuckled and waved her hand in front of her face. “Just for a little bit of new blood, you know? Wouldn’t want to stagnate.”

Eva stiffened slightly as the succubus slunk over, wrapping an arm around Eva’s shoulders. Catherine had been in an absolutely insufferable mood immediately following her previous treatment. But between her back flip, her showy movements, and actually touching Eva, she was probably going to be even worse after this one. It would probably still be a good idea to stop by and watch, but Eva might do some Catherine avoiding for the foreseeable future. As much as possible given the ritual project anyway.

“But anyway, provided I don’t find any major issues, everything should be good to go by New Year’s Day.”

New Year’s Day. The day before when Devon wanted to run Eva’s treatment ritual. Would everything be resolved by then? Devon might have to deal with some delays. Something Eva wasn’t too keen on herself. Her latest treatment had already been delayed for so long. All in the name of letting her body stabilize after such rapid and large alterations. Something she felt was entirely unnecessary.

Her body felt fine. She hadn’t collapsed, had anything go wrong, or otherwise keeled over dead. Well, except that one time. But that didn’t count; Ylva had been the one to kill her, after all. As for acclimatizing to her body, there wasn’t much to acclimatize to. She still had the same number of limbs. What were likely horns were still just nubs on her forehead that were mostly hidden by her hair, short as it was. The things on her back that might have been wings were, like her horns, just nubs. And that was assuming that they were even wings and not just her unfamiliarity with her own backside and shoulder blades.

It wasn’t like Devon had run an x-ray on her to see for certain.

Of course, there were probably all kinds of metaphysical issues to worry about. Things she had barely paid attention to. Things that Devon would concern himself with in terms of research. Had she been a bit older—or perhaps simply wiser—when Devon had first proposed the treatments, she might have done her own research to find out exactly what she was getting herself into. Now that ship had sailed. It was a bit too late to concern herself with that. Her body wasn’t human and, based on her test with Ylva, neither was her soul.

But he had delayed her treatment for a few months now. Even if summoning a Power to Earth disrupted their plans for a while, it would surely be fine. Devon wasn’t the kind of person to wait until the last available moment. At least not with regards to her treatment.

He might be a little upset that she had gone ahead with the ritual circle. Based on their short conversation the other day, he didn’t sound all that enthused with it. But Eva had a plan for that. If Devon decided that Eva was simply too much trouble or too dangerous to work with, she could probably convince Catherine to finish her treatments. Catherine might insist that she wasn’t friends with Eva, but there had to be some mutual respect.

Shrugging Catherine’s arm off from her shoulders, Eva took a few quick steps away. “Alright,” Eva said. “I’ll make sure we have the requisite humans and demons before then.”

“Make sure they are pure humans and pure demons. No nuns and no humans with bound demons. I don’t think it should matter, but let’s not push our luck.”

“Had already been planning on it.” Vektul had said that they needed humans and demons. Not partials either way.

Though, now that she thought about it, she hadn’t seen Vektul in a while. He was still around. At least, she was mostly certain that she had seen him wandering the hallways at school, sitting in his room—using Eva’s blood sight—or eating meals at lunch. But he hadn’t really been there.

“If you send me a copy of the pictures you just took,” Zoe said, “I’ll get started comparing them to the plans. Although, I’ve been considering telling Genoa about the ritual. She might actually have more insight than Wayne. Mage-knights frequently travel around ancient sites where rituals have taken place…” She trailed off with a slight shrug, glancing at Eva.

Eva sighed. Figures that the moment she told one person about it, everybody would end up knowing. She waved a hand. “Maybe try to leave Carlos out of the initial discussion? Genoa is fairly easygoing. Carlos hates me.”

— — —

Everyone always said that hard work paid off. Juliana wasn’t so certain she agreed. Hard work hardly meant anything to her since she had been kidnapped. Currently, she could look at an unfinished piece of homework and finish it with a thought. She could go even more mundane if she wanted. Shoelaces instantly tied themselves at her command. Or rather, they didn’t tie themselves. They simply were tied. As if they had been tied all along.

Some people might argue that studying to summon demons in the first place or her experiences in Hell and with kidnappers had been hard work enough. She wasn’t so sure that she agreed with those imaginary people she had conjured up within her own mind to act as a foil. Bad experiences didn’t mean that she had actually put work into something. They just meant that she had bad luck. Or had brought things down upon herself, which was probably a whole lot more true than a simple failure in luck.

Especially when Zagan’s ability was so strong. Juliana wasn’t sure what levels of hard work should be rewarded with such an ability, but it certainly wasn’t something she should have been able to achieve in her sixteen years of existence. She could almost understand how Zagan could act as he did—barely caring about anything and constantly seeking something to amuse himself.

She had tried to make the purple streaks in the sky go away. Glancing out her window, it obviously hadn’t worked. Some things trumped his power. The Powers, apparently. But smaller things?

Juliana was almost certain that she could kill the hunter without ever seeing her or even knowing her name. Just a thought in the back of her head combined with a little will and she might find herself stuck in the center of the sun. After all, she was currently not in the center of the sun and the opposite of not being in the sun was being in it.

The biggest hangup was that she wasn’t sure if she should. Morally. The mage-knights wandering around would likely prioritize killing the hunter over capturing her. At this point, she had done enough to warrant such a reaction. Attacking schools really was not a good way to get people to like her.

But just wishing her dead and having it happen? That seemed wrong. Besides, Zagan would probably like her to fight rather than simply wish her problems way. And if she failed to amuse him, he had already said that he would tear his way out of her chest.

So far, Juliana had not tried to use it on a person. Except the vampire. And she wasn’t sure that her using it on the vampire had actually worked. Nothing had happened. He hadn’t stormed up to Eva and demanded to know what she had done to him. But that could simply be because nothing had gone against his desires so far. So long as he had no reason to try to tell people about the ritual circle, he shouldn’t encounter any mental blocks keeping him from talking. And that was assuming that he didn’t just drop dead or something worse if he tried to tell people. Doing something like that was brand new to Juliana. It was one of the main reasons she hadn’t tried to use it on other people.

That and she hadn’t had Zagan’s help in trying to stop the vampire from talking. Since the night she had been kidnapped, he hadn’t said a word. He was still there. She could still use his magic. He just wasn’t talking. Juliana imagined him sitting on a couch in the back of her mind, watching like her eyes were televisions with a bucket of popcorn in his hands.

Which only served to make Juliana nervous. He wanted entertainment but all she was doing was sitting around, trying to avoid giving her parents reasons to lock her up in the basement for her own safety. Maybe he found amusement in that. Surely it wouldn’t last.

Really, she just wished that something interesting would happen. Something to ensure just a little excitement, even if it were only temporary.

A knock at the front door broke Juliana out of her reverie. Not many people stopped by their home. It was located out in the boondocks of Brakket City. Eva and everyone else she knew would have sent a message if she had been coming over.

But both of her parents were home. If she hadn’t gotten a message, it wouldn’t be for her. That wasn’t to say that she wasn’t curious. She stood, opened the door to her room, and leaned against the frame.

By the sound of the heavier footsteps, Juliana’s mother had been the one to get up and open the door.

“Zoe,” Genoa said as the door creaked open. “You took long–”

Her mother’s voice clipped short as a tremor ran through their house. Paint on the walls cracked. Small flakes wafted down to the floor. The door to Juliana’s room just about knocked her upside the head as it swung shut. Only a quick jump into the hall kept her from being crushed.

She didn’t stop with her jump. She kept going, half sprinting down the stairs. That shake wasn’t an earthquake. Something had slammed into the house. Her mother was in trouble.

Sliding down the stairs, she skidded to a stop just in front of the main entryway.

Her mother was lying on her back, looking like she had half of the door embedded in her chest. Juliana only stared for a second before she blinked. Between her eyes closing and reopening, the door was back in its proper place. Her mother was still on her back, but it was like she had never been injured otherwise.

It hadn’t even been a conscious decision on Juliana’s part. She might have thought that Zagan had done it had she not known how altruistic he was. Which was to say, not altruistic in the slightest.

Juliana just about ran up to her mother to ensure that she was alright.

A growl from just inside the doorway stopped her cold.

She only got a second to stare at the humanoid form before its skin fell to the ground in long strips. Its muscles fell from its bones before the entire thing collapsed into a puddle of violet blood. Organs no longer attached to each other, it fell forwards into a disorganized pile of bones.

A queasy feeling rose up in Juliana’s stomach as she stared at what had once been a living creature. The spots in her vision grew until she collapsed into her mother’s arms.

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010.009

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At least two enigmas had landed in the city. Nothing had come close to Eva’s ritual circle. Brakket security had cleaned them up—disabling them and moving them to a containment ward that Anderson had set up within the zoo. Since they couldn’t be permanently killed, they needed to be kept from regenerating and running rampant. Of course, that was all his job. Eva concerned herself with nothing more than a quick run-through of the city.

She was pleased to have found nothing especially concerning. The faint presence that felt almost like a demon was still around. Eva had spent a good quarter of an hour trying to sniff it out. At this point, she was almost convinced that it had consumed an invisible demon. Or something else that could hide well.

Perhaps more concerning was the fact that nobody had seen it. She had mentioned it to Anderson right after the first earthquake, but since then, nobody called up his hotline to freak out about a monster eating everything. The people of Brakket City were all accounted for. No one had come forth complaining about themselves or their loved ones being eaten.

That other demon hunter was somewhere around. Perhaps she had done something. Eva was hoping that she had gotten herself eaten, though she doubted that she would be quite so lucky.

Spinning the thin whistle in her hand, Eva walked down another street. One towards the center of Brakket City, not far from the main school supply shopping section where all the shops for school uniforms and books were located. Snow on the sidewalk melted before her feet, ensuring she neither slipped nor accidentally stepped in the cold ice. To other people, seeing a demon melt snow before her might be somewhat alarming. However, it was just some simple thaumaturgy. No demonic shenanigans going on in the slightest.

“It’s slightly stronger here.”

“Slightly,” Eva said, glancing at Arachne out of the corner of her eye, “is an understatement.”

With nothing better to do with the immediate future, they had decided to try to locate the enigma once again. Having one running around, even if it wasn’t doing anything, couldn’t be good. It could be building its own ritual circle to bring over Life for all Eva knew. She doubted it, but the possibility existed that it wouldn’t be acting in the best interest of humans or demons.

To that end, Eva had finally decided to use the whistle. She had spent a good fifteen minutes scrubbing it clean. There really was no excuse not to try it at this point. Still, she wanted to use it as little as possible. She and Arachne were out searching for where the enigma-demon felt strongest for exactly that reason. Hopefully the whistle would work on it. Sawyer had only had what Eva deemed to be standard enigmas with him. His hadn’t consumed demons or vampires or anything else as far as she could tell. Not until after the attack on his ritual, anyway.

“What do you think? Is this the best we’re going to get?”

Arachne shrugged her shoulders. “We could try a few more streets. I don’t know that much will change. It’s too hard to tell.”

Eva glanced around. There was a small pizza place on their street, not one that she had ever been to. Peeking through their windows, they looked busy enough. It was probably the only pizza place in Brakket, so that shouldn’t be too unexpected. A few of the employees did stop and look out the windows when she got too close, but none looked particularly alarmed at her presence—possibly thanks to the event, which they had undoubtedly watched. She just waved and continued walking until she was out of sight.

Both buildings next to it had been boarded over. She couldn’t see anyone inside either while using her sense of blood. One looked to have been boarded up relatively recently. The boards were newer looking and the sign of a printing company stood out in faded letters above the door. Eva couldn’t tell what the other had been. The wooden barricades looked rotted and worn to the point where it was doubtful whether it kept much of the weather on the outside.

The opposite side of the street was much the same. Half the buildings had closed down while others had found something that the city’s low population still needed and couldn’t get elsewhere.

Walking up to one of the abandoned buildings, Eva coiled the muscles in her legs and jumped. Springing off the ground brought her to a nice and easy stop just at the edge of the single story building. She stood right on the ledge with the tips of her toes hanging off over the sidewalk.

Arachne didn’t leap up in a single bound. She jumped, dug her right hand and right leg into the brickwork of the building, and used that as a platform to launch herself the rest of the way to the roof. Her injuries were mostly healed now, so Eva wasn’t entirely certain why she did it like that. But, upon arriving at the top, she gave Eva a short nod and said nothing more.

So Eva just shrugged and let it go. If she wasn’t feeling quite well enough to jump to the roof, Eva would keep an eye on her when trouble inevitably started.

Spinning the whistle between her fingers again, Eva stopped it with the mouth of the whistle pointing at her. The height of the building, while not an extreme height, should help carry the sound through the air. The surrounding buildings wouldn’t block it.

“If you see the creature run towards populated buildings, try to save the people as much as you can. Also try to corral it towards one of the uninhabited buildings.”

“Perhaps we should do this at night? After these people have gone home?”

With a shocked blink, Eva opened her mouth and held up a finger. But she ended up snapping her mouth shut. She didn’t really have a good response to that. Though she did stare at Arachne with narrowed eyes. She made a decent point about the safety of others? Humans at that? What had happened to her Arachne.

After a moment of thought, she shrugged.

“I was hoping to meet up with Catherine before too long. Zoe as well. Perhaps get their help to finalize as much of the ritual as possible. But…”

Eva knelt down. She carved a small wide-area sleep runic array into the ledge. A single drop of her blood went into the exclusion zone and, with a poke of her finger into Arachne’s leg, Arachne ended up excluded as well. If the sleeping had worked on the other enigma, it should work on this one. Sure, it would put all the humans in the area to sleep. Theoretically, one of the pizza guys could wind up falling into an oven or cracking a head on a counter, but she was close enough that she should be able to get to them before they could come to too much harm. A few stitches into their eyebrow would be much safer than potentially being eaten by an enigma.

She didn’t power it right away, however. The array was fine just sitting and waiting. If she ended up putting the enigma to sleep before blowing the whistle, it would just stay hidden, unable to hear the sound.

Everything ready, she stood and placed the whistle on the edge of her lips.

No sound actually passed through the thin tube of bone. Nothing more than the rush of air, anyway. No high-pitched whine that people normally associate with whistles. Which wasn’t much of a surprise. Eva had heard, or rather seen Sawyer use the whistle. The biggest problem was that the whistle lacked any immediate feedback. For all she knew, the whistle had been damaged at some point. Either when she had grabbed it away initially, in Hell, or even when she had been cleaning it not so long ago.

So she just crouched own and waited, keeping an eye out for anything suspicious. She kept an extra watch on the humans in the few occupied buildings around her. Just in case the enigma had sneaked down into their storage cellars or broom cupboards. While she hoped it would come straight to her, there was always the possibility that it would attack people on the way.

To Eva’s side, Arachne twitched. Just a small thing. Her fingers curled unnaturally. It had been a few seconds since she had blown the whistle, so it probably wasn’t that.

“Something wrong?” Eva asked, glancing up to see her friend’s face.

“You don’t feel it? It’s moving.”

Eva blinked and concentrated. She had been too focused on her sense of blood and the humans around. As soon as she focused on the faint sensation of the demonic enigma, she realized just what Arachne was talking about. The sensation was moving. Like a pressure wave after a particularly large firework. Nothing world changing, but enough to notice.

“So the whistle did work then. Good.”

“Perhaps. Be on your guard. The necromancer may have done something to the enigma in his company to keep them loyal and merely used the whistle as a call.”

“I know,” Eva said, holding her hands over the rune array, preparing to activate it the moment she saw the enigma. “What do you think this is for?”

Arachne let out a low growl. “Just be ready. It worked on one. That doesn’t mean it will work on others. These things… unnerve me.”

“Me too.” Though, as with the other demonic enigma, Eva wasn’t getting an unsettling feeling in her stomach. Perhaps things would change once it got closer. She was hoping it didn’t.

Another oddity, one she only realized as she was thinking about how the enigmas normally felt, was that not once had her captured enigma done the high-pitched whine into cannon boom attack. It hadn’t even tried as far as she could tell. She would have to ask Catherine to confirm. If it had eaten something that ended up changing whatever mechanism of its body produced that sound, it might become an imperative to feed that something to any other enigmas they ran across. Working around them with a constant headache would be nearly impossible.

Eva’s head snapped to the side, staring up the street she and Arachne had been walking up. She had thought that she saw something. Just a shadow in the corner of her eye. Yet staring down the street, Eva couldn’t see anything except the pizza place’s returning delivery truck. Which, at its languid pace, wasn’t nearly concerning enough to get her to look. Not on its own anyway.

The driver exited the beat-up car, grabbed some bag with the pizza company’s logo, and headed inside the building while being entirely unaware of Eva and Arachne’s presence. The shadows beneath the car remained still. No creatures crawled out from underneath.

A bristle against the hairs on Eva’s neck had her standing and whirling around.

Again, nothing was there. Just plain white snow, even on the flat roof, unbroken by footsteps.

“Arachne?”

The spider-demon had spun around as well, though more in reaction to Eva’s turn than anything else.

“I don’t see anything.”

Eva took a step forward, farther away from the edge. She brushed her foot over the snow, melting it away while keeping an eye out for any inconsistency in the melting. “Could it be illusions of some sort?”

“Would it be able to use any abilities it gained from eating demons? The other one flopped about, barely able to utilize its wings.”

“But it did manage. Even if it was bad at it.” Eva shook her head. Turning back to the rune array, she brought the whistle up to her lips. “Just keep an eye out. I’m going to try calling it again.”

The second she blew on the bone whistle, she heard it. A high-pitched whir coming from the street below. She didn’t get a chance to clasp her hands over her ears before the inevitable explosion crashed through her skull. Glass exploded up and down the street. The car’s side windows instantly turned to little diamonds of glass while the larger windows of the shops spider-webbed before they fell out of their frames.

Leaning over the roof while clasping her ears in case of a second blast, Eva spotted the enigma. More animal-like than the one she had captured, this one still had its rounded mouth filled with sharp teeth. Unlike the other, it was lacking all the tentacles on its back. She only had a moment to really look at it. Its eyes met hers. As soon as they did, it took off running, fading out and blending in with the snowy sidewalk.

“Arachne!” she called out as she slammed her magic into the runic array.

She didn’t need to give out any further orders. Arachne jumped from her perch, nearly flying out as she chased after the enigma. Its six legs left a clear trail in the snow even though it visually blended in. Staring at Arachne and the footprints, Eva realized that it was well within her sight range yet she couldn’t sense any of its blood. Which meant that it wasn’t merely invisible, but blocking most perception as well.

Still, Eva was hoping her runes would work out. Rather than chase after it herself, she brought the whistle back up to her lips and blew again. It slid to a stop, leaving a long streak in the snow.

Arachne slammed into the enigma, not quite able to stop in time. The enigma turned fully visible the moment she did. Its wide mouth snapped at Arachne, but missed by a few inches. It opened its mouth for a better shot, but Eva blew down on the whistle before it could try again.

Its head snapped over to stare at Eva.

The whistle worked, apparently. She didn’t know if it would eventually grow tired of looking towards her when she used it, but for the time being, the enigma was forced to look at her every time she used it. Just letting out a low, continuous stream of air through the whistle had it moving back closer. It didn’t even resist Arachne as she got back on her feet and started tying up the enigma.

She stood up, only replacing the whistle in her pocket once Arachne gave her a thumbs up. The enigma’s eyes didn’t droop in the slightest. Eva might have worried that she had drawn out the runes wrong, but that didn’t seem to be the case. Humans in all the occupied buildings around her had passed out. Even with the adrenaline from all the windows shattering, they hadn’t been able to resist the call of the sandman.

None looked like they were in immediate danger, but Eva used her feet to scratch away the runes anyway. It would take a few minutes, but they should wake up before the pizza ovens burned down the buildings.

Stepping off the roof, Eva landed just in front of the enigma. It didn’t try to snap at her, but it did start up another whine. Eva kicked it in the jaw before it could finish the noise.

“We should just kill it,” Arachne said, pressing down on its back with her leg. “If the succubus wants to perform experiments on it, it should revive later, right?”

“That could take weeks.”

“Better than it getting loose during transit. I’d rather not have my back half eaten.”

Eva hummed for a moment, scratching at her chin. They already had the one enigma safely in containment. Same with the separated tentacles, if they needed them for some reason. This one had scales instead of fur or leathery skin. Catherine or Lynn might want to figure out what it ate to gain those. Lynn could still take blood for whatever she was using it for. Which was really something she should check in on. So far, Eva had been assuming that Lynn would report anything important when she discovered something. But it had been quite some time since Eva had spoken with the former nun.

However, that was for later. For the moment… Eva stared at the enigma. With the whistle, it escaping probably wasn’t much of an issue. Judging by how it twisted back to stare at Eva despite its attempt to escape, it wouldn’t be able to resist more calls. But Arachne was right. It could take a chunk out of her before Eva could react.

“Do it.”

“With pleasure.” Arachne lifted her foot off the enigma’s back. She held it for just a moment before dropping down on the base of the enigma’s neck. Not quite severing it, but violet blood did splatter around as the bones of its neck pulped. The rest of the body immediately went still. And yet, despite the definitely severed spinal cord, its heart still pumped blood.

“Well, let’s pick it up and–”

Eva cut herself off, jumping back and away from the fallen enigma. Arachne did the same.

A wide portal, black as night, opened up beneath the enigma. Unlike normal demons, the enigma did not immediately fall inside. Violet bled into the black portal. It shimmered, much like the sky overhead. Only once all black had turned colors did the enigma sink into the portal. Even then, it was a hesitant sink. Normal demons fell in like a stone in water. The enigma sank like the portal was filled with tar.

After finally disappearing beneath the surface, the violet portal hung around just long enough for Eva to worry that it would stay open permanently. It did eventually collapse in on itself.

The violet shimmers faded away into nothingness.

But the street wasn’t back to normal. The portal was gone, but it left a dark splotch of land left behind.

“That was an enigma, right?”

“As far as I could tell.”

Eva knelt down, touching just the tip of her finger to the darkness. The moment she did, she felt a certain familiarity. Like being back within her domain in Hell. As a quick experiment, she tried forming a single metal bar from her prison, just like how she built the alternate women’s ward.

Her fingers wrapped around cold metal almost as soon as the thought crossed her mind. She withdrew her hand, pulling a narrow bar of rusted iron from the darkness. Exactly like what she might find in one of the cell blocks at her prison.

A scowl crossed her features. “This must be what Nel meant.” She had never followed up on the augur’s message about enigmas leaving things behind. If it had been important, she figured that Nel would follow up on her own. Obviously she couldn’t trust the nun to do that much.

“Do you suppose this is Life’s plan?” Arachne said. She leaned down next to Eva, but kept her hands well clear of the dark splotch. “We kill enigmas, they leave some of Hell behind. It seems like it would take forever to bring all of Hell through.”

“Seems like it would take forever to get meaningful results.” The entire spot of distorted terrain covered less than a five foot circle. It wasn’t a perfect circle at that, somewhat elongated. Perhaps using the outside edge of the enigma’s body to determine its radius.

“Powers are different beings. They don’t think like we do. I doubt they experience time like we do either. Still, if other things can come through this at will…”

“Then we kill more, which makes more, which means more and more things will come through.”

“It might not take as long as we think.”

Eva stood, backing away from the dark area. “Let’s see if Anderson will set up a few guards—guards impressed with orders to not kill the enigmas—around this and ones Nel and Ylva made. Then… we need to finish the ritual circle. Immediately.”

<– Back | Index | Next –>


010.008

<– Back | Index | Next –>

Eva froze, staring at the creature. It scampered off to hide the moment she snapped her head over, but she continued staring. The thing had spoken. Words—her name—had come out of its mouth.

“I thought you couldn’t get it to talk,” Eva said without taking her eyes off the thing.

“It didn’t do anything but growl and slobber when I tried speaking with it.” Catherine leaned forward, nearly touching the bars of the cell with her face.

“That was my name, right?”

“I doubt it actually knows the context of what it said. I’ve said Eva once or twice during our conversation. Devon has as well, right? I probably said your name while trying to get it to speak as well. Like a parrot, it is merely repeating what it heard. Eva has been a fairly common word around it. Likely when you first captured it as well. Arachne or Zoe probably said your name.”

The enigma pressed itself to the floor behind the twisted remains of the bed frame. The frame wasn’t doing much at all to hide the creature’s body. Only its face. But its two pointed ears, which had been lying flat against its skull, perked up and twitched every so often as Catherine spoke.

Eva spent several minutes attempting to coax the creature out of hiding. It didn’t speak once. None of her words to it seemed to do a single thing.

“If it was just repeating a common name, it would have said ‘the’ or ‘I’ or something else that we say far more often than my name,” Eva said with a deep frown.

“Perhaps it is that human thing.”

Eva finally took her eyes off the enigma—it wasn’t doing much of anything at the moment—and stared at Catherine. She had a slight sinking feeling in her stomach. “What human thing?”

Catherine grinned. “Human babies’ first words are often calling out to their parents. A similar thing could be occurring here.”

Shaking her head, Eva said, “I’m not even going to dignify that with a proper response. Besides, if that were the case, its first word should have been Catherine.”

“Very funny.”

“Still, if it said a word, maybe it can say more. Maybe to the point where it will understand what it is saying and what is being said. Of course, you might have to teach it like a human. It will take time, effort, love, and care and nurturing.”

That wiped the smile right off Catherine’s face. Taking a few steps away from the cell, she paused with a shake of her head. “I believe this ‘communication’ experiment has run its course. No valuable data can be gained from continuing attempts to meaningfully interact. Lynn wanted to dissect it. I think I will tell her that she is free to do so.”

The tone Catherine spoke with had Eva wondering if she was serious or not. On one hand, the enigma probably didn’t have any answers to questions that she might ask. If the creature had only recently gained sapience—if it was even sapient now—then it probably wouldn’t be able to tell much of its goals, purpose, or its patron Power. On the other hand, it might be amusing to convince an enigma to fight against its creator.

Eva ran a finger over the whistle in her pocket. Depending on exactly how Sawyer’s whistle worked, it might not take much convincing. She had actually forgotten about it until a few minutes before going to check on the enigmas. Despite having them ready to be the perfect test subjects, Eva was a little hesitant to use it.

It looked like it had been carved out of bone. Knowing Sawyer, it had to be human bone. Anything less just wouldn’t fit with him. But she wasn’t hesitant because it was bone, rather because it had belonged to Sawyer. Eva couldn’t help but shudder. It was a whistle. That meant his lips had touched it. In fact, she had seen his lips on it.

Still, she might have to use it. If not on the hellhound-enigma, then on the one still lost in the city.

Leaving it in her pocket, Eva threw one last look at the still cowering enigma before following Catherine out of the cell block. The enigma was probably not going anywhere. If Devon thought his containment was close to failing, he would have stayed behind and fixed it up. However, Catherine was going somewhere and Eva still had a few things to discuss with her.

Only for Eva to nearly bump into Catherine as she stepped out the main door.

She only had a moment to realize that Catherine was staring up at the sky before actually bumping into her. Though it wasn’t Eva’s fault.

The ground shaking sent Eva straight into Catherine’s backside.

“Oh no,” Eva said, pushing herself away from Catherine to stare at the sky. “Not again.”

Catherine, having maintained perfect balance despite Eva, just turned her head back to the sky. “I didn’t see anything fall before you bumped into me.”

“Things could have fallen beforehand. Last time, there was a good hour between things falling and the earthquake. Call Nel,” Eva said, patting Catherine on the shoulder as she moved around her to get out of the cell block. “see if she found anything. I need to grab my dagger.”

She had promised herself, and Anderson a little, that she wouldn’t use blood magic while the other schools and cameras were around. However, there came a point where pragmatism won out over caution. If there were more enigmas running around, she didn’t want to come out unarmed. A few vials of blood and her dagger would make her feel much better. So long as she kept her dagger hidden, she could probably pass off the blood as some demon thing.

As for the whistle… well, if more did fall from the sky…

Eva really needed to put it through an acid bath. That would clean off any remnants of Sawyer. Unfortunately, she didn’t have the time or the acid.

Maybe she could coat her mouth with semi-solidified blood that she could just obliterate later on. Did it say something bad about her that she would rather have demon blood in her mouth than a whistle that might have lightly brushed against Sawyer’s lips a time or two? Probably not.

“Eva!” Arachne called out. Eva had barely made it halfway to the women’s ward before Arachne made it to her. She ran up, placing a hand on either of Eva’s shoulders. “Are you alright?”

“Fine. Nothing happened here. Grabbing my dagger and some blood. Then we’re heading over to Brakket.”

The carapace making up Arachne’s mouth curled back into a teeth-baring grimace. “Must we?” she said, voice low. “You have no obligation to keep those humans safe. There are security guards and bounty hunters there. We have already captured one enigma for any testing we could possibly need. There is no reason to throw yourself into danger.”

Eva sighed. It was true. She didn’t need to do anything. Genoa would be keeping Juliana safe. Shalise as well. Irene had Saija constantly shadowing her and Jordan could take care of himself. And, as Arachne had said, Brakket had a security force. Apparently.

In that light, there might not be much of a reason to run.

“Except,” Eva said slowly, patting Arachne on the arm. “What happens if an enigma crash landed right on the ritual circle?”

Arachne’s grimace twisted even further. “I suppose we should take care of it.”

“At least check it out. And maybe nothing happened this time. Normal earthquakes do happen. This could just be an aftershock from the one the other day.”

“Do you really believe that?”

“Not in the slightest!” Eva slipped around Arachne. “I’ll just be a moment. Check in with Catherine around the enigma cells. See if she got a hold of Nel.”

Blinking twice had Eva just in front of the women’s ward doors. She dashed inside, grabbed her dagger from its spot just next to the copper engraved plate that Juliana had gifted her, and ran back outside. Another few blinks and Eva found herself right next to Catherine and Arachne.

“Well?”

Catherine glanced over to Eva as she slipped her phone back into her pocket. Which, when Eva thought about it, was probably a good reason to wear clothes. If Catherine didn’t wear clothes everywhere and suddenly needed her phone, she would either have had to carry it everyone or go pick it up.

“Nel was out of town with Ylva. Not sure what they were doing. As such, she didn’t see anything fall. Which doesn’t mean that nothing fell. Once she gets back, she said that she will start scanning the streets of Brakket.”

“Well great,” Eva mumbled as she sent off a text message to Zoe. If nothing actually fell from the sky, there was no need to rush. Though, even if nothing had fallen, she should still check in with the ritual circle to ensure that the earthquake hadn’t damaged anything.

And, now that she was thinking about it, she should probably have Catherine retake pictures sometime.

“Arachne, we’re teleporting there. Shrink down, if you want to come. Catherine…” Eva trailed off, scratching the short hair on the back of her head. “Well, you can do whatever you want, I guess.”

“I’ll remain here. If more enigmas fell, I should ensure that those we have captured do not escape.”

With a nod of her head, Eva started building up magic within herself. Arachne climbed up her leg and perched at her shoulder. A moment later and both were hurling through the fleshy tunnel between Hell and Brakket Academy.

— — —

Zoe paced back and forth in Wayne’s office. She passed by the colorful jars of potions and ingredients that lined every available space on the walls without so much as glancing around. It wasn’t the first time she had entered his office. Most of the potions weren’t real potions anyway. Or if they were, they were so old that ingesting them would give someone quite the stomach ache at best. The potion bottles were purely decorative. A little fancy touch to his room to impress students and parents that entered.

Of course, anyone who actually knew Wayne would know that he wasn’t really the type to go for superfluous decorations. Zoe—while she had been much younger, just after Wayne landed his job as professor—had been the one to set it up for him. In all the years since, he had never bothered to change it.

In fact, it was about time she dusted again.

While she paced, Wayne sat hunched over his desk, staring at the top.

Wayne hadn’t said a word in quite some time. Not since she had dropped a pack of papers on his desk. With Catherine’s help, she had scaled down the ritual circle’s primary plans to fit on nine sheets of paper. A great deal of details had been lost, but Wayne wasn’t trained that heavily in ritual circles anyway. He might notice, but it was a minor detail in the grand scheme of things. If he really wanted to see a more detailed version, she didn’t have a problem showing him.

She hadn’t fully explained what the ritual did. The subject was hard enough to broach. For now, she had told him that it was designed to help close off the connection between Hell, Life’s domain, and Earth. Which, assuming it did what Eva said it would do, shouldn’t be too far from the truth.

But between the earthquake the other day and what it likely meant about just how impending an apocalypse was… Really, she– They all had known about it for nearly a year now. Compared with every other thing in her life, an impending apocalypse wasn’t quite something that she could quantify in her mind. Not even the Lansing Incident could compare. Zoe imagined it was similar for the others. It was too big.

As such, though she wouldn’t admit it to anyone save perhaps Wayne, Zoe was secretly glad that Eva had been doing something about it. Even if that something was creating a ritual circle of dubious intentions apparently designed by a Power.

Zoe bit the edge of her lip as she looked over to Wayne. He had no formal training in ritual circles and yet he had been staring at the papers for well over ten minutes. Testing the waters, she tried clearing her throat.

The creases on his brow smoothed over as he glanced up to meet Zoe’s eyes.

“You said that this ritual is supposed to be large?”

Nodding her head, Zoe approached the desk. She pointed out each of the small circles dotted around the ritual circle. “People are supposed to stand inside each one of these to help power the ritual circle. I’ve checked over it and each circle is designed in the same manner. Magic can pass from within the smaller circles out into the larger ritual, but not the reverse. Regardless of what the circle actually does, they should be safe.”

Wayne sighed with a shake of his head. “That you had to tell me that does not speak well for… anything, really.”

“I know.” Zoe hung her head, staring at the lines on the sheets of paper. “But I’ve yet to hear any better solutions. And after the earthquake the other day and everything involved with it, I’m worried we’ve got less time than anyone was thinking we had.”

“Do keep in mind that everything we know about this so-called apocalypse comes from a demon. Worse, Zagan. That… man did not sit well with me from the moment he showed up as a teacher.”

Zoe leaned back, crossing her arms. “Oh? Monsters raining from the sky is just a normal part of life then?” She frowned as she realized something. “I suppose that’s par for the course in my life.”

Wayne pressed his hands to his desk as he stood. He stood like that, back bent with his hands unmoving. “Look, Zoe,” he said, voice far softer than she had heard it in years. “I don’t know what you hoped to accomplish by bringing this to me. Obviously I’m not going to like it. But it isn’t something I can offer meaningful advice on. If you construct this, you should be exceedingly careful. Both about the circle and those you’re working with.”

Shifting slightly, Zoe pressed her lips together. The ritual circle was essentially complete. Or it had been the other day when Eva showed it to her. Assuming Eva had kept up work, it might even be finished. He didn’t need to help in the slightest. “I wanted you to know. To realize what I’m doing. So that you weren’t blindsided if you stumble across me building a ritual circle. And your help… well, any insights you can offer would be appreciated, but myself and Catherine–”

Wayne let out a loud scoff. “Sometimes I wish we had never found that girl.”

“Sometimes?”

“All the time. I tried to leave her behind, you know.”

“So you remind me every time something happens. Still, things would still have happened. Perhaps not in the way that they did, but there could still have been some impending Armageddon. We would just be ignorant of it. With that in mind, I’m glad we’re the ones to know about it. Someone else might have gotten it wrong.”

“And you’re so sure that this–” He put a finger down in the center of the printed papers, “–is right?”

“That’s what Catherine and I hope to find out. And before you scoff again, Catherine likely would have been around Brakket Academy with or without Eva’s presence. Dean Halsey was well on her way out and Martina well on her way in long before Eva’s first year. Zagan as well.”

“And that,” he grumbled, “is scoff-worthy on its own.”

Turning from his desk, he moved up to the shelves of flasks just behind his chair. He pulled off a tall bottle of amber liquid. Reaching behind the other bottles, he grabbed hold of two short glasses. He slid the papers over to make room for a glass in front of each of them.

Zoe raised an eyebrow. “You never accept my invitations to Tom’s bar. I thought you quit.”

“It’s just an occasional thing. Perhaps I’m getting old, but I like my head on straight more often than not these days. Every five minutes seems like something life threatening is going on. But it seems we never just have nice social nights anymore.”

Just as he started to pour, all the bottles, vials, and jars on the shelves started to rattle. Alcohol ran off his desk from where his pouring failed to connect with the glass. Zoe felt the ground shaking beneath her shoes. One bottle shook itself off a shelf, shattering against the floor of his office, before Wayne could reach over and place a hand on his tome.

As soon as he did, a semi-translucent barrier appeared over all the walls, keeping the glass trapped in place.

Wayne just sighed. “See. Like this. I try to relax for five minutes and now we’ve got another quake.”

Zoe jumped to her feet, feeling far less nonchalant than Wayne’s exasperated tone. Her first thought was to check her phone. Perhaps in her pacing and nervousness, she had missed messages from Eva, Nel, or Catherine. But there were no recent messages. No missed calls.

“Well,” Wayne said, moving to his feet with a certain sluggishness as the momentary tremor died off, “might as well go see what the damage is.”

“I hope it was just an aftershock from the quake the other day.”

“Yeah, hope hasn’t done much for us lately. If that was just a simple quake, I’ll drink the whole bottle at once,” he said, corking the opening. He set it down only for another slight tremor to send it rolling off his desk. There was plenty of time to catch it even if he wasn’t enhancing his thought processes. However, he just stood and stared, watching as it shattered against the ground. “I suppose that answers that question.”

Zoe just rolled her yes. “Come on. We need to make sure the students are safe. Then just hope that Brakket’s security team handled everything else.”

<– Back | Index | Next –>


010.007

<– Back | Index | Next –>

Eva stopped pacing in front of the makeshift cell for the enigma-like creature. Actually, it wasn’t all that makeshift. Maybe a little run-down and worn out, but it was a genuine prison cell. They had enough of them around the prison to spare, so Eva had insisted.

Originally, she had wanted the creature to be kept within the solitary confinement building. It was isolated from the rest of the prison and had fairly heavy-duty doors and walls. Devon, in his infinite wisdom, had decided that he could handle the creature’s containment in the building adjacent to his own. He had said it was for the convenience of study, but Eva was mostly sure that he was just too lazy to walk to the opposite side of the compound anytime he wanted to inspect the thing.

Looking into the cell, Eva curled her lip into a slight frown. The enigma hadn’t escaped. Devon had made good on his promise to keep it contained at least. Of course, that wasn’t for lack of trying. The interior of the cell, worn down and time-damaged before its occupant entered the picture, had been clawed and scratched almost to the point of light coming through the sandstone walls. Even the floor and ceiling had deep gouges. Dust littered the floor from the marks above. The metal frame of the bed, once attached to the wall with hinges and a chain allowing it to fold up, had been torn from its fixture and had apparently been used as a battering ram against the metal bars on the front of the cell.

The bars were bent. One had come out of its socket, only standing thanks to the crossbars. The one out of its socket had bent inwards. Teeth marks marred the entire bent portion. In fact, looking at it closer, Eva was fairly sure that a good chunk was missing. If the bar were bent back to its proper position, it would be too short by almost a foot. She couldn’t see any bar lying around the room, but she supposed Devon might have taken it away.

However, standing in front of the cell, Eva could scarcely believe that the creature inside had caused all the damage. For as long as she had been pacing, the creature had done nothing but cower in the back of the cell. It used the twisted metal of the bed frame as cover, hiding behind it. Every few seconds, it popped its eyes over the top to peek at what was going on. If Eva was in the middle of pacing, it would watch for a second or two. The moment that Eva turned to look at it, it ducked back behind the frame and clawed at the ground. Its claws didn’t do much good. After all the destruction of the cell, Devon had done something. Now, the tips of its claws scraped over the floor without actually coming into contact with it. Some slight membrane protected the cell from its occupant.

“Interesting, Eva. Interesting” Devon scratched at his scraggly beard as he peered into the cell, staring with his beady eyes. Normally, Devon kept his goatee trimmed short. It was always a little unkempt. However, today’s beard looked like he hadn’t trimmed it in a full week. Maybe more. Coincidentally, that fit roughly in the same time window as Eva introducing Catherine to the ritual circle. He had yet to say a word about it to Eva, but she couldn’t help but wonder if he was worried about it. “This is the first time I’ve seen it calm down,” he said.

However, she turned her attention to his words rather than her musings and watched the enigma frantically claw at the ground for a moment as it attempted to find some escape. Or to create an exit. “This is calm?”

“Well, it isn’t trying to tear apart the cell. Much. But the other few times I’ve observed it, it bounced off the walls like a rubber ball between trying to claw me through the bars. And,” he paused to rub a finger down one of the heavily bent bars, “gnaw on the door. Something I’ve noticed is its fur. When it first came here, it was dark and fluffy looking.”

Devon didn’t need to continue. Though it was hiding behind the metal bed, the bed had been twisted and broken. It didn’t cover the entirety of the creature. Like a child playing peekaboo. The fur covering the enigma’s arms and legs had turned from the fluff Eva had first seen to a bristly metallic coloration. She wouldn’t be able to tell without actually touching it, but she highly doubted that they would be quite as soft. Its fur wasn’t all that had changed. Both tails, which had been just as furry as its arms and legs, had slimmed out. Scales covered both. Stone scales, by the looks of things. Perhaps sandstone. The tan color nearly matched the walls.

“You were right as far as I can tell,” Devon said. “It ate some demons and essentially became them.”

“My question, what happened to the demons it ate? Are they dead-dead or just the usual mostly dead?”

“Wouldn’t know. If we could summon demons at will, I would consider sacrificing an imp or another hellhound. Just to see what happens. I imagine that the demon would return to Hell upon taking fatal damage leaving the enigma to consume whatever gets left behind. However, we already know that enigmas cause strangeness when interacting with Hell. They pop out of summoning circles. I wouldn’t be surprised if they have some way to block the return portal.”

Motioning with his hand, Devon led Eva down the cell block hallway. The moment they moved away from the cell door, the whine of twisted and torn metal echoed down the hallway. Devon didn’t stop moving so neither did Eva. He didn’t lead her far from the enigma’s room. Two doors away, he came to a stop in front of another cell. Eva slowed down, queasy feeling surfacing in her stomach as she peered in.

The demonic enigma felt more like a demon than an enigma. Normal enigmas gave her something of an upset stomach. In those terms, she much preferred the demon versions. However, turning the corner, she felt that familiar illness. Only a far weaker version. So weak that she hadn’t felt it at all a mere ten paces away.

It only took a quick glance into the room to realize where that feeling was coming from.

The tops of the tentacles were spaced out in the room. Each hovered just a few inches above a small air essence crystal. They snapped and nipped entirely impotently. Everything in the room, including the metal beds that would have been hung on the walls, had been cleared out. As far as Eva could tell, the room had even been swept and scrubbed clean. Devon certainly hadn’t been the one to sweep. For some reason, Eva couldn’t really picture Catherine doing any kind of manual labor either. It had probably been the carnivean.

Only the crystals and the enigma tentacle heads were in the room. Nothing else.

Of the six semi-spherical tentacle heads, two were marginally different from the rest. They were set apart from the others. One, the one that Eva had stopped from eating the cement of the sidewalk, was mostly unchanged from when she had last seen it—stony gray and slightly rough-looking. The others were all smooth and leathery.

One other had been placed right in the center of the room.

It was much larger than any of the others. Where Eva could hold one of the others comfortably in the palm of her hand—so long as it didn’t try to bite her that was—this one was much closer to the size of a thin cat. It actually looked a lot like a cat. Sort of. Maybe like a fat snake with stubby little legs. And it did have legs. Six of them, as all enigmas had. At least, all that Eva had seen. Unlike most standard enigmas, this one had fine and short hairs covering its body. A half-dozen nubs lined its back.

Despite its overall profile looking something like a cat—or maybe a squirrel?—its face was anything but. Four pale eyes twisted and turned to look around the room. Its head swiveled to face Eva as she moved into view. Round mouth baring its sharp teeth, it started snapping at the air.

“We’ve been feeding it.” Devon had his arms crossed over his chest. His tentacle didn’t quite sit still, moving much like a worm squirming to escape the grasp of his other arm. “It was Catherine’s idea. After hearing you talk about that cement one, she wanted to find out what would happen if they ate other things.”

Eva raised an eyebrow. Devon wasn’t one to refer to demons with proper pronouns. All demons were ‘it’ to him. Was it a slip of his tongue? Or was he starting to see Catherine as more of a person than a demon? There was a third possibility. He could be caught in some mental compulsions that Catherine had put him under. She might have grown tired of being called ‘it’ all the time.

She couldn’t even point it out. If she did and he started talking about Catherine again, he would almost assuredly call her ‘it’ out of either spite or embarrassment. Devon was all cantankerous like that. Unless it was Catherine’s compulsions. Assuming it wasn’t, if she mentioned it, then she would never know if it was a slip of his tongue or him actually calling her by a proper pronoun.

So Eva just nodded her head. “You didn’t feed it a demon, did you? Not like one of the carnivean’s tentacles?”

“A squirrel.”

Eva winced, but it was what she had expected. At least it wasn’t a cat. Not that Devon would care. Nor would Catherine, probably.

“Though feeding one a portion of the carnivean’s tentacles might be an interesting experiment. I’ll bring it up with Catherine.”

The carnivean wouldn’t be happy. Hopefully she wouldn’t find out about Eva’s involvement in sacrificing her tentacles to the enigmas. Though, if she did find out, it wasn’t like she could do much to Eva. Arachne had handily destroyed Qrycx on their first meeting. She would undoubtedly be able to do so again. In fact, Eva could probably take on the carnivean all on her own without breaking a sweat.

“So what’s the plan then? Just keep them here and feed them until they’re too fat to move?”

“I have no such plans beyond occasional experimentation. It may be interesting to see if we could cause a reverse of their consumption ability. Perhaps injecting a subject with enigma blood and seeing if they turn into an enigma, though I doubt they will. In fact, your…” he trailed off, face curling into a sneer. “Your Elysium Order friend—who, I might add, has been rushing in here day in and day out, begging for me to open the cells so she might collect some blood samples or perform some tests using that white magic of hers like some kind of menace—believes that the blood is barely related to the enigmas.”

Eva waited for a moment, but Devon didn’t elaborate any further. With a sage nod of her head, she said, “I might know what she means. When I tried to use my blood magic on them, it barely reacted. Explosions didn’t explode so much as they fizzled and controlling it felt sluggish.”

At least, that was true as far as she could remember. She had really only tried the one time in Hell. The same time that she had her foot bitten off. That it didn’t work as well as even her own diluted human blood was about all she really recalled.

“No problems keeping them contained?”

“Not with these.” He thumbed his tentacle over his shoulder back towards the hellhound-enigma. “That thing was a little trouble at first, but I think we got it under control.”

“Good. I don’t want to stop by one day only to find everyone eaten and the prison overrun with enigmas.”

Devon snorted but didn’t get a chance to respond. Loud clicks of high heels against the stone floor echoed up the hallway. Catherine—wearing tight-fitting pants and an almost translucent shirt, which were the first clothes that Eva had really seen her wear since she took up residence at the prison—stopped just to the side of Devon. Not behind him nor in front of him. Though, Eva did note Devon stiffening his back, glancing at the succubus out of the corner of his narrowed eyes.

While he instantly snapped to a guarded stance, Catherine barely took notice of him. She didn’t so much as glance in his direction, just stopping at his side with a hand on her hip.

“Hello, Eva. I’ve been trying to teach the demonoid one to speak,” she said with a sad shake of her head. “I had hoped that we might be able to acquire first hand information directly from an enigma. With a proper mouth and vocal cords, it should be able to speak. However, it might not have the brain capacity to vocalize any coherent thoughts.”

“You’ve only had it for a few days. Were you expecting instant results? Learning a new language takes months of dedicated study.”

“For a human,” Catherine scoffed. “Demons have innate skills with language. I can speak to you as easily as I can speak to someone on the opposite side of this planet. The enigma clearly consumed demons. A hellhound and another demon with wings. While a number of demons possess wings, I concur with your initial suggestion that it ate a succubus. But while it took on physical traits, it did not utter a single intelligent word during my attempts. Neither does it appear to possess any graceful traits common to succubi.”

Humming in thought, Eva moved around the two. Approaching the enigma’s cell, she could hear noise. Not the high-pitched whine into a cannon explosion, but the screech of twisting metal. It stopped the moment Eva moved in front of the cell door. The creature within, which had been right up near the bars, flipped over its own back in an attempt to scramble back behind the bed frame.

Except for one little problem. The bed frame had been crushed and thrown to one corner of the room. Likely what the noise had been as soon as they left. The more recent noise had come from the broken bar on the cell door. Another inch was missing from the top. Teeth marks lined the top.

As soon as Devon saw it, he started scowling.

But Eva wasn’t too concerned. Devon and Catherine would figure out how to properly keep it contained. She focused on the creature’s back. Its wings, specifically. With it having further damaged the bed frame, it couldn’t even hide properly. However, Eva couldn’t tell the difference between the enigma’s wings and Catherine’s wings. Both were almost identical to the wings of a bat. Leathery and with a little claw poking out right at the midpoint.

The only real difference was the angle. Catherine’s wings perched behind her back with the clawed tip pointed high above her head. When spread, the ends pointed outwards almost perfectly perpendicular to the rest of her body. The enigma’s wings, if it were standing upright, would have been pointing down towards the ground.

“A lot of demons have bat-like wings, don’t they? Is it possible it ate something else?”

“Demon-like wings, Eva,” Catherine said with an air of haughtiness. “Bats have demon-like wings. In fact, there is a theory that bats are actually demons—or were once upon a time—that simply found their way to earth and bred out of control.”

“But they don’t have black blood, do they?”

Once upon a time,” Catherine repeated slowly, as if speaking to a child. “They’ve had their demon blood bred out of them. Probably. It isn’t an area I have studied much. Incidentally, I’ve never seen a bat in Hell, though I do admit that I haven’t explored much beyond my own domain.”

Anyway, back to my point, is it possible it ate something that had demon-like wings? Something without much intelligence and without the grace of a succubus?”

“Possible, yes,” Catherine eventually admitted. “But I am still leaning towards a succubus. The way its chest bulges, the shape of the hips… Physically, it is a very appealing being. Though obviously lacking anything more functional than form.”

Eva took a moment to stare at the enigma. She just wasn’t seeing whatever Catherine thought was appealing about it.

“Well maybe it didn’t eat the brain of whatever succubus fell into its mouth. Is that even how these things work?”

“That is what we hope to find out with our experiments. If we had a demon to feed it, things would be different.”

Devon stepped up, grumbling under his breath. “There are a dozen demons around the school. I’m sure one wouldn’t be missed.”

Catherine just made a thoughtful hum.

A hum that had Eva sighing. “Just leave Saija alone,” she said. “Vektul and Srey as well. I guess Neuro and Sebastian too.”

“What did you do? Befriend the whole lot of them?”

“I wouldn’t say I’m ‘friends’ with any of them. Some of them are participating in the event. Wouldn’t want them going missing. Others are useful.”

Catherine shook her head. “Probably not a good idea anyway. We would have to kidnap them alive. I’m not sure on the exact details of their contracts, but they are required to assist each other in times of danger in some manner or other. Something that would turn out poorly for us if we acted against them. For now,” she paused, turning to the side, “Eva, I wish to speak with you regarding a hypothetical ritual I’ve come up with.”

As she spoke, Devon rolled his eyes. “Idiotic ritual more like. You’ll have no part of it,” he said, locking eyes with Eva. A moment later, he glanced to the side with a scoff. “Though speaking of rituals, I believe I have a date for your next treatment. Bring three demons the day after New Year’s. Otherwise Catherine will fill in, along with Arachne and the carnivean.”

Piece said, Devon stalked off down the hallway until he reached the exit. He didn’t so much as throw a glance over his shoulder as he walked out the door.

“I take it he didn’t like the prospect of the ritual circle,” Eva said, leaning against the wall next to the enigma’s cell as she turned to face Catherine.

“He glanced at it for a mere second,” Catherine said with a sigh. A second later, she lost her perfect posture to take on a slouch. Her voice dropped a few octaves. “‘Too complex,'” she snapped, mimicking Devon’s voice. “‘Anyone who tries to put together something so foolish will blow themselves up. Either you made a mistake in designing it or you will make a mistake in drawing it out.'”

Returning to her proper posture with her head held high, Catherine continued. “Of course, I didn’t tell him that a Power designed it. I presented it as a hypothetical that I had been thinking about on my own. He never heard your name in the same sentence until just now.”

All of a sudden, Eva was glad she had brought Catherine in on the project. Not only had she found those errors on the first night, but she had also taken steps to completely leave her out of the mess while speaking with Devon. Which was much better than Eva’s original plan of just having her not ask him at all. Of course, it wound up with the same effect. Devon didn’t look like he was planning on helping Catherine look over it. Still, the thought counted.

“What did you want to talk about?”

“He’s right.”

The smile on Eva’s face froze.

“And by that I mean that Zoe and I have uncovered no less than forty-seven errors between the two of us when comparing the photographs and the design papers. As perfect as I may be, I still must admit that I could have missed another forty-seven in finding those. We’ve barely even scratched the surface of actually examining the ritual and its intended effects. Not for lack of trying, I assure you.”

“I see. Will that–”

Eva’s head snapped to the side. The enigma had moved right up to the bars. Slowly. It hadn’t run up to attack her. She had been watching through her sense of blood and hadn’t been too concerned. She wasn’t so alarmed that it had slipped up and done nothing but stare at her.

What freaked her out were the sounds it was making.

“E..va.”

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Author’s Note: Well, this worked out pretty well last time. Void Domain actually hit number 12 for a day or so. Thanks! And, if you enjoyed, consider voting at top web fiction. It’s just a quick button (or captcha if you have never voted).


010.006

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Snow had finally fallen on Brakket Academy this year. Halfway through December, but it finally happened.

Eva trudged through the Infinite Courtyard, spreading a path of heat along the ground in front of her. It managed to melt the snow off. Unfortunately, the ground wasn’t quite as hard as Eva thought it should be after a snowfall. Mud and grime stuck between her toes, made all the worse from the melted snow. Really, for as much as she hated snow, walking on it might have been better in the end. At least her feet wouldn’t be quite so dirty.

Maybe shoes would be a good investment.

Too late now.

Of course, she hadn’t been able to clear the way from the beginning. Only once they got deeper in. Walking into the Infinite Courtyard and finding a long trail would have been conspicuous in the extreme. Even footsteps in the snow would have been a bit much.

Yet, thanks to her companion’s ability with water magic, none of Eva, Arachne, Anise, or Chris had left so much as a dent in the freshly fallen snow for the first ten minutes of walking. Only when she finally got tired did Eva break out the fire magic.

At least nothing worse than snow had fallen from the sky. Not since the enigmas had crashed down three days ago. Apparently one was still unaccounted for. Nel had seen eight things fall. Between Ylva, the Brakket security, Genoa, and Eva’s own enigma-demon creature, they had only dispatched seven. However, nobody around the city had mysteriously disappeared. Nobody had reported anything wrong. Not even pets had gone missing, apparently. Of course, nothing said that wild animals and birds weren’t being consumed in droves.

While she wasn’t too worried, the missing creature was cause for some concern. It was the other demon-feeling creature. She had tried to track it, but the feeling was so faint that she could hardly tell it existed, let alone where it existed. If it was anything like the other one, it would be fleeing from people rather than trying to eat them. So that was a plus. If it had tentacles on its back, it might even be trying to eat itself continuously, preventing it from causing any trouble.

She still had warned Anderson and his security force. They would try to locate it.

Eva wasn’t holding out much hope.

More importantly, she had arrived at the ritual circle. And found a single butterfly fluttering around in her stomach upon seeing it.

Her ward had held. In fact, it was still holding.

The hemisphere that was her ward had a thin layer of snow coating the entire thing. A giant dome of snow. It was thinner in some parts than others. The base where the dome met the ground was especially thick. But because of its size, it had a fairly gradual curve to it. Plenty of area for the snow to land on and not slide off. There were probably ways to prevent the dome from forming—infusing the ward with some heating element would probably work to melt it all off—but Eva hadn’t constructed it with that in mind. Truthfully, she hadn’t even considered that it would dome up like it had.

Raising a hand, Eva sent out a wave of fire magic-powered heat. Enough to form a decently sized doorway. Her melting disturbed the snow above the doorway for a good few feet, sending it all crashing down onto the ground. Thankfully, the ward worked perfectly fine on water as well as snow and kept the rapidly liquefying snow from pouring into the ritual circle itself.

Which meant that the ice-cold water ran right over her feet instead.

Eva hopped back, taking in a slight hiss of breath as she lit her feet on fire. Maybe a bit of an overreaction, but she really didn’t like the cold.

With dry though still slightly dirty feet, Eva stepped into the dome.

Her jaw just about hit the floor. Few things could actually make Eva stop and stare. Especially not general scenery. But the interior of the smooth crystal dome stopped her cold. Sunlight filtered through the layer of snow in thin rays. Weak sun, as it had already been stopped from its full brightness by the somewhat overcast sky outside the dome, but that was fine. If it were brighter, it might ruin the effect. Where the rays didn’t pierce the thin layer of snow, the sunlight diffused across the entire dome. It was like looking at a night sky except inverted from pitch black to brilliant white.

Pretty, but it really had to go.

Snapping out of her reverie, Eva turned slightly towards the entrance she had made and watched as her two followers stepped inside with the same slack-jawed gazes that she had initially walked in with. Luckily, she had been at the head of the group and therefore had not shown off her face to any of them. So she put on a slightly condescending smile instead.

“It’s beautiful,” Anise said. Her voice snapped Chris out of her gaze. Though Anise stayed staring at the ceiling, Chris turned to stare at Eva.

“Bit conspicuous, isn’t it? Giant white dome in the middle of the forest? You did mention that you wanted to keep this place a secret from others.”

Eva grinned as Arachne moved up to her side. “I’ve actually told a few people, getting second opinions on the project as well as double-checking that there are no errors in our work. However, you’re right,” she said with a nod of her head. “I’ll be spending some time walking around the thing, melting off the snow.”

“Aww,” Anise said, drooping her shoulders. “But it looks so pretty. I can’t believe I’ve never seen it around a weather ward before.”

“That’s because regular weather wards aren’t supposed to do this. Miss genius over there screwed up in her casting,” Chris said, waving her hand in Eva’s direction.

“Hey, it was my first time casting a ward of this type and of this size. Before this, a dinner plate was about the largest I had tried. I think I did pretty good.”

Chris crossed her arms, staring at Eva while making a slight ‘uh huh’ noise without opening her mouth. After a moment, she shook her head. “But you have some explaining to do.”

Eva sighed. She turned away and moved over to the makeshift resting area they had made up out of a tipped over log and a few plastic chairs they had borrowed from the school. It was just outside the main circle so that nobody had to worry about messing up part of the already constructed area while taking a break.

She had known that this would be coming. Anderson had released a slightly more detailed public statement regarding potential hazards around Brakket Academy. It mostly dealt with describing the enigmas and what they could look like, but it had mentioned a few other things as well. Namely, numerous uses of the word ‘appearing.’ He hadn’t explicitly mentioned enigmas falling from the sky, but between the odd shimmering in the violet streaks, the earthquake, and all the creatures showing up, rumors had been spreading. Even if most people had been focused on the ground, all it took was one person mentioning that the sky had been disturbed to diffuse that concern among the students.

Initially when recruiting Anise and Chris for the ritual project, Eva had explained it as them trying to replicate part of the magic involved in the streaks overhead.

That seemed to backfire a bit with the recent developments.

Sitting in one of the plastic chairs, Eva sank into it with her eyes shut. Behind her, Arachne stood with her arms crossed, doing her best to not glare at the nuns as Eva had asked.

No need to antagonize them. Yet, Arachne really wasn’t that good at not glaring. She had eight eyes, after all!

Devon, Catherine, and Lynn were all out at her prison dealing with their newest resident. Yet here she was, having to entertain these two nuns in order to keep them from telling about the ritual circle. Of course, she would have needed to come anyway because of the snow. The giant dome just stood out too much to be left alone.

She stayed still for just a moment before snapping her eyes open.

“What do you want to know?”

Telling them everything would be a risk. Zoe at least knew about the impending apocalypse and was open to suggestions for resolutions. These two didn’t. She could tell them, but that would rely on them believing her. Chris obviously didn’t like her much even after getting Ylva to help the two of them. Anise might be more receptive. It was really hard to tell. She didn’t speak all that much when Chris was around, choosing to let the latter handle most of their conversations.

If Eva asked them what they wanted to know rather than freely offer up information, maybe they would be vague enough that she could be vague back to them. The fact was that while Juliana was essentially grounded, Eva needed their help more than ever. Doubly so if Eva absolutely needed to use the ritual in the near future. She had wanted to use the ritual by the third event, but now that enigmas were falling from the sky, she might have to use it.

So she sat in her seat, arms crossed and staring as the two nun trainees exchanged looks with each other.

“What exactly happened the other day? The school got put on lockdown, then the earthquake. Creatures running around? He didn’t say demons, but they were, weren’t they?”

“Actually, no. I call them enigmas, but they don’t have real names as far as I know. The fact is that they don’t come from… originate from Hell. Therefore, they aren’t demons.”

Eva then went on to a slightly more detailed explanation. Their tendency to become what they eat was her primary focus. She carefully left Life out of the picture. They were Elysium Order nuns, but did they believe in Powers? Not if their previous conversation had been any indication. But it would be better to avoid mentioning Powers or the apocalypse if possible anyway. All they really needed to know was that they were fairly nasty beings and trying to invade Earth—she skipped over them invading Hell as well.

“Invaders?” Chris said, one hand on her hip. “What, like aliens wanting to conquer the planet?”

“I guess?” Eva didn’t really get what she was trying to say. Her tone, however, wasn’t as believing as she would have hoped. A thought that was confirmed when Chris glanced at Anise with a hefty scoff.

“There were only like five of them, right? Not much of an invasion. I don’t think anyone even got hurt.”

Anise stuck a finger in Chris’ side, causing the latter girl to jump sky-high. Chris whirled around and swatted away Anise’s finger with a glare.

“Weren’t you listening?” Anise asked. “She just said that they don’t die. Even if that’s wrong, what if they were just a scouting party?”

“Then they did a poor job of reporting back their findings. But,” she paused, pointing a finger towards Eva. “Let’s say that you aren’t lying. Again. How does that relate to the thing in the sky?”

“A tear in the fabric of reality or something. I’m not much of a theorist. You would have to ask Zoe—Professor Baxter—but they can use it to come to Earth.”

“Then why aren’t they constantly raining on us. We’ve been here for what, nearly two months? This is the first incident. Have there been previous ones?”

“Not like this one. And they aren’t raining on us because we’re actively pushing back against them.” Which wasn’t true in the slightest unless she included Void in the definition of ‘we.’ “This ritual circle is meant to permanently seal the hole. In a manner of speaking.”

“In a manner of speaking?”

“Well, I’m the construction contractor, not the architect. The exact details are a bit of a mystery to me.”

Her proclamation was met with a moment of silence between the two nuns. It only lasted a few seconds before Chris narrowed her eyes. “You’ve had us working on a ritual circle that you don’t know the specifics of?”

“You worked on a ritual circle that you don’t know the specifics of. I don’t want to hear your hypocrisy. Look,” Eva said, standing. Both girls actually took a step back as she moved. Eva ignored them. “I’m not the bad guy here. I’m trying to keep the world intact and whole. Bad things are afoot that I–we are trying to stop.

“But I can’t do it alone. I mean, I could probably grab a shovel and finish the ritual circle on my own, but even then, I need demons and humans placed around the circle to help power it.”

Eva paused, sighed, and sank back into her seat. She had gotten a little heated there and might have said slightly more than she originally wanted, but neither nun was running away or trying to destroy the ritual circle, so it was probably fine.

“So really, mind helping me finish this? I know we’re not the best of friends. Or friends at all. And you might not be extremely enthused with the help I got you for your excommunication problem. Not that you were very enthused with being excommunicated in the first place. But I digress. In light of the creatures appearing around, I would like to get this ready to go as soon as possible. I have third parties—including a professor here at Brakket—investigating the ritual to make sure it does what it’s advertised to do, but if another, larger attack happens, it needs to be ready.”

Speech finished, Eva crossed her arms and stared, looking at the two nuns with the most sincere face that she could muster.

If the two nuns backed out, she might need to talk to Juliana again. Something to keep them from talking like she had done with the vampire—though Eva still hadn’t seen any evidence that Zagan’s magic had worked. And, Eva might need to get Juliana out from under her mother’s eyes long enough to finish the circle. It shouldn’t be more than a few days worth of work. Especially not for Juliana, who was much more used to ritual circle construction than either of the nuns.

Failing that, Eva might have to resort to asking Juliana to use Zagan’s magic to complete the circle. If that happened, Catherine would need to take new pictures of the entire thing and double-check it all over again. Eva didn’t trust Zagan’s magic further than she could throw it. And that was before knowing that it wasn’t infallible. Apparently he had gotten an unexpected result when trying to change the color of Juliana’s clothing back in Hell. And, of course, he had lost against the armored hunter. There may have been extenuating circumstances. He may have been messing around. It might have even been intentional. Eva didn’t know. But she didn’t want him screwing over two planes of existence because he wanted a little more amusement in his life.

No. Actually, that was a terrible idea. In the span of one thought trail, Eva had reaffirmed her decision to not have Zagan finish the ritual. Shovel it was.

“So,” Eva said, “what’s the verdict? If you want to leave, I’m not going to kill you or anything. I’m sure Ylva will still help you out even.” Mostly because Ylva wasn’t acting on Eva’s orders. She just collected nuns for the fun of it. “Of course, I can’t allow you to go around telling everyone. There’s a reason for all the cloak and dagger secrecy around this project.”

Anise took a step forward, moving alongside Chris. “Can we talk about this?” she said, grabbing Chris’ wrist. “Alone?”

“Go ahead,” Eva said, waving a hand. Maybe they would be more open without Arachne glaring at them anyway. So Eva leaned back, staring at the snowy dome. “I suppose I should get this cleaned up. Shame, but necessary.”

As the two nuns left the dome out the entrance Eva had made earlier, she stood and approached the same entrance. Except she stopped just to the side. Raising her hand, Eva sent out a blast of heat. Much like the doorway, the snow collapsed down and melted to water before either dissipating into a fine mist or running off into the ground. Unfortunately, the entire slice of snow on the dome didn’t collapse. Even waving her arm around still left a huge amount of snow up towards the top of the dome. And then, it was only a tiny slice of the entire dome. The new sliver combined with the entrance she had made only cleared a fraction of it off.

It was clear that she needed to try something new.

Moving back towards the small rest area, Eva approached the ward’s core. A central bank of magic for most greater ward schemes. It functioned essentially as the magical battery that kept the whole dome afloat, working just like the central orb of blood for her blood shields. Except this one was invisible to the naked eye. Without already knowing where it was, she would have been hard pressed to locate it. Presumably, others would be as well. There had to be some ways of locating them. So far, they hadn’t covered any possible ways in class.

Normally, the ward’s core was used solely to infuse more magic into the overall ward. Like a battery to keep the shield running. It was also the single point within the ward that Eva could use to collapse the entire thing instantly. No need to go through the fairly laborious effort of infusing her magic into the shell then ripping it away.

Eva didn’t want to destroy the ward, however. Doing so would ruin the entire ritual circle. Maybe even worse than if she had simply not used a ward at all with all the weight of the snow crashing down at once instead of as tiny flakes.

Modifying it, on the other hand, should be possible. She just needed to infuse a little heat. It didn’t need to be much. Just a slight increase in temperature to let the dome melt. The dome didn’t need to be taken down right this second after all. It had stood overnight. Another hour or two wouldn’t hurt.

She didn’t get the chance to actually enact the changes. The two Elysium Order trainees came back in just in time to stop her.

Which, after getting half a second to think about it, was probably for the best. While Eva knew the theory behind modifying a ward, actually doing so wasn’t something she had done before. Creating a small-scale replica weather ward and then modifying that would probably be for the best. A little practice lowered the chance of her ruining all their hard work so far.

So she paused and turned to face the two girls.

“We’ll continue to work on the ritual,” Anise said.

Chris huffed and crossed her arms. “Under one condition. You told us that we couldn’t look at the ritual while being connected. We’re going to do so and see what the Elysium Order’s best have to say about this.”

Eva bit her lip. Lightly. Not enough to puncture the skin.

But… was that wise decision?

On one hand, them looking at it might do Catherine and Zoe’s job even faster. They might be able to point out mistakes and anything else odd about the circle.

On the other hand, Eva didn’t know exactly how the Elysium Order’s eye things worked. They could stare at it which would allow others in the Elysium Order to know about it. Some of those others might not like it regardless of her good intentions. Then, the ritual circle could easily come under attack by who knew how many nuns.

“Nope,” Eva said with a smile.

“Good. We’ll–What?”

“You’re being fired. Don’t worry, like I said, I’m not going to kill you or anything.”

Anise and Chris looked to each other with open mouths before Anise turned to Eva. “What do you mean, fired?”

“How else can I put this… You’re being let go. Your services are no longer required. Your beliefs put us into opposition with one another. Take your pick, I’ve got more.”

“But–But you needed us to finish this.”

“Irene and Saija are still helping. And Juliana. It will be slower, but we’ll manage. Probably.” Eva glanced towards Arachne and shrugged. “If we don’t, well, you’ll know when the apocalypse hits.”

“You can’t just–”

“I can, actually,” Eva said as Arachne shifted. The spider-demon didn’t actually move her feet, she just leaned ever so slightly forward.

Both of the nuns took a step back.

“Now, as I said, you can go. Tell anyone about this before the sky is back to normal and I promise that you will regret it. I can’t kill you because of those rings on your fingers, but I’ll put you through Hell as much as I can manage.” She paused for a moment, looking between them with a stern expression. “Now get out! Or stay and help. But if I see your eyes flare in the slightest, I’ll tear out those eyes from your chests with my bare hands.”

Arms crossed over her chest, Eva watched the two nuns run out of the snowy dome. She let out a light sigh as she pulled out her phone and scrolled down to Juliana’s number. Hopefully Zagan’s magic worked to keep the nuns’ mouths shut.

<– Back | Index | Next –>


010.005

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Eva blinked forward, moving rooftop to rooftop. It only took a handful of blinks before she found herself in front of the creature. The creature could fly, so she had expected to be rapidly blinking over and over again just to keep up. However, it wasn’t that good at it. It bobbed and dipped, barely able to keep from crashing into the ground. The tentacles lining its back behind its wings moved as if they had a mind of their own, even going so far as to gnaw on the ends of the wings.

It truly was a bizarre sight. One that had Eva standing and watching for a few seconds rather than trying to catch it.

Of course, once it realized that Eva had gotten ahead of it, it panicked again. Rather than simply turn and glide away somewhere else, it actually tried to climb over its own wings in a scramble to escape. Doing so didn’t turn out so well. The moment it tried to twist and grab at its own wings, it lost against gravity. It crashed down, hit the end of the roof, rolled over the side and crashed down again in the middle of the street.

Eva almost felt bad watching it try to pick itself out of the tangled heap of limbs and tentacles. Not bad enough to stop Arachne from following it off the edge of the roof with her thread stretched between her hands. Despite landing almost on top of the creature, it managed to scuttle out from underneath her legs without getting tied up.

Six legs and a series of tentacles carried it along the ground faster than it had been flying. Arachne snarled as Eva teleported down to street level, just in front of the creature.

It nearly barreled right over her, being entirely focused on Arachne. Only a quick wall of flames between them caught the creature’s attention in time for it to skid to a halt. Eva spread the flame around in a wide semicircle, helping contain the creature while leaving Arachne free to march in closer.

Unfortunately, the creature realized that as well. Spreading its wings once again, it managed to get just enough height to get over Eva’s head.

Blinking after it, Eva considered just jumping on its back. The only thing stopping her were those tentacles filled with teeth. She still had distinct memories of having her foot bitten clean off after accidentally getting it caught in an enigma’s mouth. And that had been fairly easy to reattach as well, being a nice clean cut. The tentacles weren’t large enough to fit her entire foot in their mouths. They would take a dozen little bites out of her should she get close.

Which, really, she should have realized earlier. Her carapace was the same as Arachne’s. If Arachne moved in close, she could wind up half-eaten. And if the teeth could tear through carapace, they could probably get through thread. Even if it was Arachne’s demonic thread.

A bolt of lightning skimmed the fur on the tips of the creature’s ears, startling it enough to send it crashing back to the ground. A secondary gust of wind blew it along the ground until it hit the side of a small bakery. Zoe jumped off the roof she had been following along atop, gliding to the ground rather than falling with full force.

Eva held out a hand, stalling Arachne from approaching. Zoe had the winds whirling around, continually spinning the creature around and keeping it from getting back on its feet. There was no need for Arachne to put herself in danger so long as Zoe kept her magic up.

“You said to catch it,” Zoe said as she walked closer with her dagger out and swiping through the air, continually sending turbulent winds around the terrified creature. “But did you have a plan as to how? Or where to keep it?”

“The prison, I assume. Lynn, Catherine, and Devon can take a look at whatever it is. They can come up with some containment wards or shackles as well. They’re much more qualified than me.”

“Maybe so, but how are you getting it to them?”

Eva didn’t have much of a plan for that either. Given that she hadn’t even thought they would be chasing and capturing an unknown creature today, she felt she really should be excused for not having a proper plan.

“You missed your lightning bolt,” Eva said, rather than properly answer. Deflecting was a perfectly valid response.

Zoe didn’t respond right away. Instead she frowned and stared, looking at the creature as it pressed up against the wall. It tried to puff out all its fur to look as big as possible while simultaneously trying to shrink itself down as small as possible to avoid the tornado of winds rushing around it. After staring for a moment longer, she kept her dagger pointed at the creature while turning to look at Eva out of the corner of her eyes.

“It’s scared. I feel bad doing this even though it isn’t hurting it in the slightest.”

Earlier, while chasing it, Eva had a similar thought. The creature was far more pitiful than standard enigmas. If it even was an enigma. For all she knew, it was just some strange demon. Perhaps not one hundred percent of demons had black blood. Zagan didn’t have red eyes even though every other demon Eva had seen had them. And this thing did feel like a demon, though as weak as an imp. If that.

She would have to ask. Catherine might know more demonic species. Devon as well.

“So,” Eva said, “any ideas on transporting it?”

“Calm it down. If it stops fleeing, I’ll be free to use my magic for more than just containment.”

“You can’t just solidify air around it?”

“I could try, but if this is an enigma… these things have been known to break out of fairly hefty shackles in the past. Even if it isn’t, demons aren’t weak. My solidified air is more of a warning barrier than anything meant to contain something.”

Eva, curling her lips into a frown, stared at the creature. Calm it down? Even if it weren’t an enigma, it still acted like a feral cat. A cat with wings. And tentacles filled with teeth. In fact, was there even a need to calm it down?

Stepping forward to just before the tornado, Eva knelt down. She carved a series of runes into the ground with the tip of her finger.

It had been quite some time since she had used runes for anything. In fact, the last real time she had used them had been the rage script she had created to rile up people against the Elysium Order. There had been a few little things since then. She had kept up with the privacy packets up until her incapacitation at Sawyer’s hands. She had taught Shalise a little, but those lessons had fallen by the wayside not long after they started. Partially, again, because of Sawyer’s attack and then Shalise’s detention in Hell.

But that disuse didn’t mean that she had forgotten everything.

A quick sloth rune, a few pargons, some directional targeting, and a blood-based exclusionary clause and Eva had a decent sleeping runic array. She pricked a single droplet of blood and let it fall onto the exclusionary clause, motioned for Arachne to do the same, and stood to move towards Zoe. “Going to need a drop of your blood unless you want to take a quick nap.”

She frowned for a moment. Still, she held out her arm—the one she wasn’t using to wave around a focus. Not having her dagger on her person at the moment thanks to Anderson, the guests from other schools, and all the cameras that had been around Brakket Academy since the start of the event, Eva wiped her fingers off onto her shirt before pricking Zoe’s upper arm. Carefully holding the droplet of blood on the tip of her claw, she carried it over to the runic array. Only then did she let it fall from her fingertip.

Everything all set up, Eva flooded the array with magic. Then she waited, watching.

Back when she and Devon had raided the museum for the lich’s phylactery, the place where she had found the bloodstone encrusted dagger, she had made a similar rune system to put any guards to sleep. However, the guards at the museum had likely already been half asleep. If nothing else, they hadn’t been highly alert and full of adrenaline.

The creature was filled to the brim with adrenaline. Or whatever passed for adrenaline in its species. Its four pale white eyes twitched back and forth, rapidly searching out anything it might be able to use to escape. Fur sticking out, it continually moved back and forth in a space of about four feet. Every few movements, it swiped its paw towards the wind. The wind swiped back every time, turning to a transparent whip that kept the creature at bay.

After watching for a full minute, Eva started wondering if she might need to add a few extra pargon runes to up the power of the sleep spell. Just as the thought crossed her mind, the creature’s lids drooped. It was only for a moment. Its eyes snapped wide open as it shook its head, sending its long mane of hair whipping around in the wind.

But it was a start.

So Eva sat and continued to watch.

It managed to hold on for another minute before its head dipped. Jolting awake, the creature snapped its head around. The next slow blink of its otherwise wide eyes came only half a minute after. From there, its eyes started closing every few seconds, increasing in frequency with every blink. As its movements slowed, Zoe slowed down the wind and only swatted at the creature when it tried to escape its containment. Something that it wasn’t trying to do half as often.

All at once, its eyes fluttered shut and stayed there. Perched on its hind legs with its forepaws supporting most of its weight, it managed to stay sitting up for all of ten seconds before collapsing to the ground in a sleeping pile of fur and tentacles. Unfortunately, though the creature as a whole had fallen asleep, the tentacles didn’t care. They whipped around and snapped at everything. Which included both bricks and small bites out of the creature itself. Eva hadn’t actually attacked it. Neither had Arachne or Zoe—aside from some mostly harmless wind. Yet it was bleeding almost worse than it had been when they first came across it.

“We may need to amputate its tentacles,” Eva said. “If only to keep it intact enough to transport to the prison.”

Eva could do it without too much trouble had she a few vials of blood on hand. Really, she should just carry some vials around with her. It wasn’t like anyone would recognize demon blood for what it was aside from the vampire. If asked, she could claim that they were potions of some sort.

Just as easily, she could sever the creature’s tentacles with her bare hands—Arachne as well—should they get close. Unfortunately, getting close would put them in range of those teeth. She could try to burn them off. Or explode them off. However, her fire magic wasn’t that precise. She would probably do more damage to the creature than the tentacles were.

“I don’t suppose your razor wind is good at amputations?”

“So long as your runes will keep it asleep,” Zoe said. Receiving a mostly confident nod from Eva, she raised her dagger and made several sharp cutting motions. With each movement, the head of a tentacle fell to the sidewalk. Each swipe sent a precise blade of wind at the creature. No blade touched anywhere except her targets.

Eva might have given a slight whistle at her ability. It would have been one thing had they been unmoving targets, but they were squirming around like the arms of a wacky waving inflatable arm-flailing tubeman.

The severed ends were small and almost spherical with their teeth at one end. And they didn’t stop biting. The mouths opened wide and then closed with sharp clicks despite their ability to move around having been stolen away from them. Still, barring a sudden ability to levitate around, Eva felt safe enough to approach.

Squatting down, Eva reached out and picked up one of the still snapping tentacle ends. She turned it over in her fingers. It continued opening and closing at the same rate, apparently unable to tell that it was mere inches away from something real to eat. With a shake of her head, she set it back down and moved on to the main body.

Eva poked at the side of its face. Just a quick test to ensure that it actually was sleeping. She assumed so, as all its tentacles being chopped off couldn’t have been a pleasant experience. Throughout the whole ordeal, none of its four eyes so much as twitched. And, leaning just a slight bit closer, Eva could have sworn that she heard snoring coming from the back of its throat.

Satisfied that it wasn’t going to be jumping up and attacking anytime soon, Eva stood and turned to the others.

“Arachne, wrap it up tight. It should be able to breathe but little else. Stay clear of the little mouths,” she said, pausing to reach down and pick one up. It had been eating into the cement sidewalk, chewing it up and spitting it out the severed end. As it did so, it started turning more gray than its natural black. Squeezing it in her fingers, Eva found it much tougher than the one she had picked up just a moment ago. “They’ll probably just eat through your webbing. We’ll need to find a way to contain them. Preferably without them eating whatever they’re held in.”

Zoe aimed her wand once again. The tentacle heads all rose from the ground, hovering in the air around Eva. They only stayed by her for a moment before they moved off to the side, still up in the air. “I’ll handle these if you figure out how to transport it.”

“I don’t have a truck handy.”

Nobody had recovered Devon’s vehicle from when they had gone to attack Sawyer. Devon did have a new one that he got from somewhere, but she highly doubted that he would let her borrow it anytime soon. He might bring it over to pick up the creature himself, but that could be hours from now. If he even bothered. Better to simply bring it to him. To that end, she turned to look at Arachne.

“Feeling up to carrying this thing all the way to the prison?”

Arachne’s eyes had never left the sleeping form of the creature. She still took a moment to respond. “So long as it stays asleep. Though I suppose I can tear its wings off if it starts to wake up. That should make catching it again much easier.”

“Sounds good. Let’s get moving.” Eva stepped away from the body, letting Arachne move in to pick it up. “I don’t know if you can teleport with those,” she said with a pointed finger towards the little mouths that were now levitating in front of Zoe, “but we should be able to find some way to contain them at the prison.”

“I’ll call up Wayne. He should have a vehicle for me.”

As Arachne hefted up the creature, Eva knelt down to the sidewalk where she had etched in her runes. Dragging her finger around the entire array, she used her burgeoning earth magic skills to free the small chunk of cement. Carrying it along with her should keep the creature asleep for the journey. “Great. We’ll head off first. Stay safe.”

With that, Eva started running just behind Arachne. The entire time they ran, Eva just thought. She didn’t speak with Arachne. She barely paid attention to where her feet were stepping.

Enigmas had fallen from the sky. And demons, or things that felt slightly like demons. Until Eva could confirm that a real demon had crossed over as Arachne had, she would be reserving judgment.

But the thing in Arachne’s arms was not a demon. It looked like one. Felt almost like one. But it wasn’t one. Eva had theories about what it might be. Or had been. It had been an enigma. Just like all the others. Dog-like with tentacles, too many limbs, sharp teeth, and violet blood. But something had happened to it that had made it more human-like. Or demon-like. Both.

Sawyer’s enigmas had eaten a few of the vampires she had recruited while attacking his ritual circle. There hadn’t been much time to investigate given the situation, but Eva had definitely noticed something. The enigmas that feasted on vampires had changed. They turned more like a vampire than whatever enigmas were.

The same thing had to have happened to this enigma. It had consumed demons. Perhaps a succubus? Stripping away the tentacles and fur, it might be quite attractive to people who weren’t Eva, though in an androgynous sort of way. The tentacles were a holdover from it being an enigma. For the fur… maybe it had consumed a hellhound? Maybe even a cerberus. The wings could have come from a succubus or just about anything else—a great number of demons had wings.

That brought up the question of what had happened to the demons it had consumed. Did they die for real? Did Void pull them deeper into Hell to let them heal like normal? Most of all, could the creature talk? It had a humanoid face. It might have to be taught to talk. Was its brain developed enough to facilitate proper communication?

She suspected that those would be questions for Devon and Catherine.

Speak of the devil…

They made it to the prison without running into any further issues, enigma related or otherwise. It wasn’t quite record time. Arachne hadn’t shifted into her largest form, just carrying the creature in her arms and moving with her two humanoid legs. And they had been moving slowly. Even with the runic array, they didn’t want to accidentally wake the creature.

Catherine stood atop the prison walls, having apparently sensed Eva’s approach. “Stay here,” Eva said to Arachne. Setting down the rune array so that it would still cover the enigma, Eva took a few drops of the creature’s blood—using the palm of her hand to contain them—and blinked atop the wall.

“I’ll be right back,” she said to Catherine. “We’ll need some containment wards though. Maybe shackles. Not sure.”

Catherine didn’t respond. She kept her eyes glued on the body in Arachne’s arms.

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010.004

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“Dean Anderson here.”

Eva sat on the edge of a table, staring out the window. So far, nothing had fallen from the sky that she had been able to see. Neither had anything approached the building. In fact, the pulsing of the violet streaks had died down to their usual levels of activity. Or inactivity, as the case was.

Around her, most of the students had lost their nervousness. They were going about class as normal. Even Juliana had gone back to her seat after watching and not finding anything too alarming after several minutes. Or, as normal as class got when they weren’t allowed to leave a full half an hour after class normally ended. Eva hadn’t actually continued with the lesson, choosing instead to stare out the window for the entire time. Surprisingly enough, Professor Lepus hadn’t objected to her watching out the window. She did walk past with a few disapproving looks every now and again, but apparently the situation was odd enough that she was willing to overlook a few people not studying.

Only Arachne sat with her.

She hadn’t yet received a response from Zoe, though telling her that things were falling from the sky probably wasn’t much to go off of. Neither had she received another message from Nel. Of course, Nel was probably out with Ylva and not looking at her phone at the moment.

In fact, the first message about the outside world was likely to be Anderson’s message. So she turned slightly to better give her attention to the overhead speakers.

“The emergency situation has been resolved. Or, to be more accurate, it wasn’t that big of an emergency. Still, given the matters announced at the feast, we felt it prudent to take immediate action to ensure the safety of the school and its inhabitants. There will be a more detailed announcement later, but for now: Someone or something may have modified the weather experiment over Brakket Academy. We do not believe there to be any immediate danger but will continue to investigate. As always, any suspicious persons or creatures should be avoided and reported to Brakket Academy security. Thank you for listening, you are all free to go about your business. The rest of school has been canceled for the day.”

Silence followed the announcement for a good thirty seconds. Professor Lepus was the first to speak.

“Well. What a waste of time. Now the class that should have been in this timeslot is going to be behind schedule,” she said, more mumbling to herself than actually speaking to the class. “I’ll have to catch them up in a hurry.”

“So, we can leave right?” one of the Isomer guests said.

“Apparently,” Professor Lepus said with a sigh. “That is what the message said. Go on and clear out,” she said a little louder to the rest of the class. “I’ve got lessons to reorganize.”

As the students packed up their books and tablets and whatever else they had been occupying themselves with during their detention, two walked over to Eva.

Srey, shaking off his few admirers, moved up a few paces away from Eva. “What was that all about?”

“No idea. Going to go find out in a few minutes, however.”

“The announcement mentioned creatures,” Juliana said, clipping the rest of her sentence with a quick yawn. She went up and peered out the window again for a few moments before turning to face Eva. Brushing a hand back over her ear, she pushed some hair back and revealed a line running up the side of her face where it had been pressed into the desk, sleeping. “He didn’t mention any creatures the other night.”

“Enigmas maybe? Or demons.”

“I can feel something out there,” Arachne said, sliding around Eva to look out the window properly. “Can’t tell what. But then, most demons don’t feel overwhelmingly strong. So they’re either extremely weak or fairly far out. Possibly both.”

Eva hummed for a moment, considering. “Enigmas fit better with the term creatures, but it could be hellhounds or something similar.” As Eva spoke, she checked her phone again. Still no message from Nel. She sent out a simple one asking what they had found. “So we’ve been given the all clear by the school. No reason to stick around. Let’s go find out..” Eva trailed off as she noticed the face Juliana made.

“I don’t know that my mother would be too happy with me running around the city.”

“That’s a good point,” Eva said after a slight hum. “Does your mother know what happened?”

“I sent her a message about the announcement. She said she would be here soon.” Juliana pulled out her cellphone and typed out a few words. “There. Let her know it is over with.”

Eva nodded and turned back to the window. Both Brakket dormitory buildings stood tall outside along with the fountain and demon blood plaza. Nothing around wrecking them which usually seemed to be the case in such situations. In fact, she didn’t see a real need to run out aimlessly in the city anyway. She did want to go find where her clone had perished. Still, no pressing need for it.

“Why don’t we find Zoe then. See if she knows anything more. Your mother won’t object to you running around the school, would she?”

Juliana shrugged. “Don’t think so.”

“Sounds good,” Eva said. After slinging her bag up over her shoulder, she started out of the room with Juliana, Srey, and Arachne in tow. The hall was packed with students. More than normal, anyway. Packed wasn’t an easy state to achieve in Brakket Academy. Not even with all the other schools running around.

Maybe it just felt packed. Everyone was in their little groups. Some walking and talking, some just standing and talking. They were all talking. Eva didn’t even need to listen in to guess the topic. She hadn’t been the only one to notice the fluctuations in the violet streaks overhead.

A few pointed at her or otherwise glanced in her direction as she walked past. She had no idea why. Not beyond the obvious anyway. Even though he looked more or less human, most people knew Srey was a demon. Arachne stood out by appearance alone, as did Eva. After a few weeks around the new schools and several months with Brakket’s students, they shouldn’t stand out quite as much as they did. Perhaps some rumors had gone around about the last time a similar announcement had interrupted classes. Or maybe about the hunter she had fought and killed just before the other schools had arrived.

Eva ignored them and continued on her way.

Yet they didn’t even make it halfway to Zoe’s room before a group of students ran up to them. Saija headed said group, pulling Irene along at her side. Behind them, Jordan, Shelby, and Shalise all followed along.

“See. I told you she was here,” Saija said, slowing down with her hands on her hips. “I can always tell where Eva is.”

Eva held up a hand before anyone else could speak. “Something fell from the skies. I don’t know anything else. I also didn’t have anything to do with it. Whatever happened was entirely not my fault.”

Saija curled her lips slightly, showing off her sharp teeth. “And that just makes you sound guilty.”

Shrugging, Eva turned and continued walking towards Zoe’s classroom. “I’m stopping by Zoe’s office. I won’t object if you all want to come. But apparently the situation has resolved itself. According to the announcement. So there probably isn’t much need.”

“I don’t want to go anywhere on my own after–”

A low rumble in the ground cut Shalise off. The Earth shook, nearly sending the group to the ground. Only Saija, Arachne, and Eva—who grabbed a hold of Arachne’s arm—managed to avoid waving their arms around to retain their balance. No one said a word as they waited, widening their stances to brace themselves against any additional shocks.

Eva slowly let go of Arachne’s arm, standing on her own. “Huh,” she said when nothing else happened. “I wonder what that was about.” She half expected another announcement over the speakers. Even after waiting a few minutes, they stayed silent.

The hallway, however, did not. After the initial shocked silence wore off, everybody in the hallway exploded in conversation. Nobody really freaking out, but lots of questions. Especially from the foreign students, most asking if earthquakes were common around the area. The Faultline students, of which three were walking down the hall, barely seemed to notice the quake. She had thought their school was just a name, but maybe they lived right on top of an actual fault. She actually hadn’t looked up its location.

“I-I don’t like this,” Shalise said, wrapping her arms around herself as she glanced around. “There were earthquakes constantly, or nearly so, in Hell.” Her last word came out a little more than a whisper.

“There are earthquakes all the time on Earth,” Jordan said, voice soft but steady.

Shelby poked him in the side. “Not here there aren’t.”

“Well, no. Not here. At least not recently. There was a fairly sizable earthquake around Yellowstone in nineteen-fifty-nine.”

Shalise shook her head, moving slightly to lean against the brick wall. “And w-what are the odds that a natural earthquake just happens to happen after,” she paused, swallowing her saliva and licking her dried out lips as she glanced towards Eva. “After something fell from the sky. After that announcement.”

Frowning slightly, Shelby moved over to the wall and put an arm around Shalise’s shoulders and gave her a few comforting pats. Juliana moved closer as well, though she refrained from actually touching Shalise. Instead she just leaned against the wall with an uncomfortable look on her face. An almost sick look. Maybe she felt guilty over the Hell thing.

“Still, nothing has changed.” Eva paused as her group gave her flat looks. “I mean, nothing in terms of us not knowing exactly what is going on.”

Juliana leaned forward slightly, pulling out her cellphone and frowning at whatever she saw on the screen. She tapped out a short response before slipping it back into her pocket. “What are we going to do?”

Eva didn’t bother responding. A musical tune carried down the hall. The second Juliana heard it, she winced.

Genoa charged up the hallway with her cellphone in hand, obviously using it to track down Juliana. Eva had caught sight of her a few moments ago, which was really the only reason she hadn’t continued onwards to Zoe’s class. That and Zoe was with Genoa, both coming towards them.

“Juliana, you are going to be sticking with me.” Genoa paused for a moment, looking over the gathered students. Nodding towards the wall, she continued. “Shalise as well. The rest of you… well, I can’t order you around. However I suggest sticking with adults and finding safe places.” Genoa turned to address Eva. “I spotted two enigmas on my way here. There might be more.”

Eva glanced to Zoe, giving her a look. “I felt at least two demons out there as well. I can still feel them, though they’re extremely weak. Maybe imps?” she said with a glance to Arachne. She got a shrug in return. “And Nel said eight things fell when she texted me, though she didn’t elaborate much on what exactly they were. Ylva headed out to take care of some of them.”

“And with the announcement,” Zoe said, “I assume Brakket security took care of the remainder.”

“I didn’t realize that the security team had been replaced after the attack early in the summer.”

“He brought on two almost immediately after assuming Martina’s position, but hired another three after the armored hunter attacked. Though, unlike Martina’s security force, I do not believe any of them are demons. Most seem to be former mage-knights. Except for Lucy, that is.”

“Two security guards worked for the school and didn’t help fight that hunter?” Eva shook her head, deciding that it didn’t really matter how many security guards Brakket had if they weren’t going to help out in the big events. Supposedly they did something today with the things that fell from the sky, but for all Eva knew, that had actually been Ylva.

“Anyway,” Eva said, “let’s get out there and find out exactly what is going on. Nel and Ylva should have some information. It’s a bit worrying that Nel hasn’t messaged me back, but–” she cut herself off as her phone buzzed in her pocket. “Never mind,” she mumbled as she pulled up her messages.

Okay! Finished. We disabled four enigmas. Three of which were drawn into portals to Hell when they ‘perished,’ and left something behind. I don’t understand what that means, but Ylva seemed a little upset at it.

“Huh.”

“What is it?”

Rather than answer, Eva just handed her phone over to Zoe. Genoa leaned over to peer over her shoulder, both reading the message. It wasn’t a long message, but Zoe kept staring at it for a lot longer than Genoa. Eva actually had to clear her throat to startle Zoe into looking up.

“Right,” she said, handing it back to Eva. “And this doesn’t have anything to do with you?”

“For the twentieth time, no. I was just sitting in class and maybe trying to bait out the demon hunter at the same time. She didn’t bite. Something that fell from the sky targeted my fake body out in the city and landed on it.”

It had to have targeted her. Maybe if more than eight things had fallen she would have believed that random chance could have wound up with one landing on her. But eight? Brakket wasn’t a big city, but it was still a city. And if Genoa had seen a few on her way over from her house—completely out of the way from where Eva’s clone had been wandering around—then it wasn’t like they had all fallen on top of her.

“So I’m going to head out there and look around a bit.”

“Alone?”

“Arachne will be with me. I’m not opposed to others joining as well.”

Juliana glanced up to her mother and nodded her head towards Eva. Genoa pretended to ignore her, but did put on a slightly more thoughtful expression.

“Anyway, come with me or not, I would like to get moving before the blood dries too much.” Eva waited just a moment before she started walking. Arachne followed after her immediately. Zoe said a few words to Genoa before coming along as well. Despite Juliana’s glare, Genoa stayed where she was, as did the rest of her friends. Not even Saija moved to follow.

Eva didn’t mind so much. Fewer people meant traveling faster. As soon as she made it out one of the side doors, she picked up the pace, moving to a light jog. Just light enough to not completely outpace Zoe. Which had the unfortunate side-effect of inviting conversation.

“Enigmas falling from the sky?” Zoe asked between breaths. “Eva, this doesn’t have anything to do with your ritual circle, does it?”

“I don’t see how it could. The circle is still incomplete.”

Though that did remind Eva that she should text Catherine. Maybe more enigmas had fallen over towards the prison area that Nel had missed. The streaks through the sky did extend over the prison as well, after all. Come to think of it, someone should probably be checking the fields between and all around Brakket as well. It would be just Brakket Academy’s luck for an enigma to wander into town while everyone was unprepared.

“Anyway,” Eva said, “I assume this is just a natural progression of the apocalypse. Obviously nothing apocalyptic has happened just yet. Assuming it stops for the time being, that is. Zagan never did give us a time frame. Maybe little things will happen for the next three centuries before anything truly bad happens.” She slowed just a little to look at Zoe out of the corner of her eye. “But I wouldn’t bet on it.”

Zoe started to respond, but Eva reached the end of Brakket Academy’s main campus, turned down the first street they came across and immediately slipped into an alley between two shops. Having been running right alongside Eva, Zoe just about missed the abrupt turn down the alley. Really, Eva didn’t need to take the alley. She had been walking on the open roads not far from Brakket. However, a few quick jaunts down a couple of alleys would save her a little backtracking.

Unlike Zoe, Arachne kept right at Eva’s side. She didn’t need prompting. Nor did Eva’s turn come as a surprise. Eva couldn’t say exactly why, but guessed that it related to Arachne’s fixation on Eva. Small tells in her body language showed Arachne where to go before Eva actually made the turn.

And yet she managed to keep her head turning around, scanning for potential threats on rooftops, streets, and shadowed building entryways. Really, every time she thought about it, Eva was all the more happy that Arachne was an ally and not an enemy.

“I still haven’t told Wayne,” Zoe said as they exited the final entryway. “I want his input before anything. Even if…” she trailed off with a glance at the sky as they slowed down.

Eva followed her gaze, glancing up as well. But there wasn’t much to look at. A gray, partially cloudy sky lined with purple veins. The streaks had returned to their previous stability, looking much the same as just a week prior. Something Eva took as a good sign. Hopefully it wouldn’t be raining enigmas and demons anytime soon.

“It looks like we’ve got a little while. I still want your and Catherine’s input as well. In the meantime,” Eva slowed to a stop just in front of a large splatter of blood in the center of the sidewalk. “I would like to find out what attacked me specifically.”

Black blood covered a small portion of the sidewalk and street, barely glistening in the overcast day. Some even splashed up on the brickwork of a nearby bookshop. Not a hint of a person was left behind. Which Eva expected. Her blood clone was just that, blood. It had no bones or organs. Not even real skin, just blood with some magical food coloring to look like her held together in her shape. As soon as it had been disturbed to the point where it couldn’t hold together, the spell had broken and the magic had dispersed.

Sending off a burst of flame from her fingertips, Eva immolated every trace of the blood. Leaving parts of herself lying around for others to mess with just didn’t sit right with her, even if none of it could actually be used for more blood magic.

“This was the same bit of magic you used to fight me that one time?”

“Yep. Just a simple blood clone with orders to wander around. I was trying to draw out the hunter so Nel could get a bead on her. Didn’t work out quite how I hoped.” Eva glanced around, including back down the alley to the side of the bookstore. “No sign of whatever landed on it. I half expected mangled remains of something or other. Or maybe footprints leading away.”

There were a few droplets of her blood that had either splashed a great deal away or dripped from something. Eva, incinerating each droplet as she followed the trail, was leaning towards the latter theory. Especially once she found a few streaks of blood leading up the side of the bookstore. There weren’t any real claw marks, it was more like someone had dragged their hand along the wall. Maybe something capable of flying or levitating around. If something was flying, it was probably a demon. She hadn’t yet encountered an enigma with wings.

That she felt an extraordinarily faint presence nearby only confirmed that idea.

“Up on the roof,” Eva said as she incinerated the trail. It was a good thing the building was made of bricks. A wooden bookstore probably wouldn’t have survived even her tiny flames half as well. As soon as she had finished, she blinked straight upwards, higher than the top of the roof. Once up high, she blinked to a standing position right on the ledge of the building. Arachne followed her up, though by sprouting a few extra legs and scaling the wall rather than teleporting.

Zoe made it up as well, teleporting herself directly to the top without the intervening hop. But Eva barely paid attention to the blast of cold air that accompanied her disappearing.

Her eyes were focused on the creature curled up at the far corner of the next roof over. Just barely out of the range of her blood sense. Its four arms and two legs were covered in fur, which it was licking and grooming as a cat might, but with a humanoid face. The rest of its body was a smooth skin, fur stopping abruptly just above the elbows and knees. Its back had wings, which explained the droplets of blood, but that wasn’t all. A series of tentacles curled around it protectively. Each capped with a tiny mouth filled with razor-sharp teeth.

Eva grit her own teeth, staring at a large gouge in the side of the creature. Violet blood dripped down its bare stomach, matting the dark fur.

“An enigma?” she hissed. But it felt like a demon.

The moment she spoke, two pointed ears on top of the creature’s head perked and angled towards her.

A beat passed before it sprung up, landing on all six legs. Twin tails stuck straight up in the air, black fur puffed out as wide as it could go as it bared its sharp teeth—both on its face and its tentacles—in Eva’s direction.

All at once, it turned and spread its wings.

“Catch it,” Eva shouted as it took off, already running after it.

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